Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Technology, Efficiency and the 83 bus

It is trite and true to say that technology changes things.  Of course it does.  Think of the steam engine, or the automobile.  Or in a more modern context, think of the internet or the iPhone.

One of the changes technology brings is increased efficiency to old systems.  Ready information at our fingertips today, so prevalent and growing more so, gives us much greater knowledge and much greater confidence in our decisions -- removing a lot of the second-guessing that humans are known to do.

The example in my mind -- Pocket MBTA -- an iPhone app that provides real-time information about when the next bus will arrive at your stop.  Because this information is based on GPS data from the bus itself, the estimates are very accurate.  This fundamentally changes the old truism that waiting 5 minutes at a bus stop feels very different from waiting 5 minutes on a train platform.

Indeed the T has opted for online apps over installing electronic signs in bus shelters for a host of reasons, chief among them that smart phones, already widely used will become close to universal so the T can share information without incurring a cost. This is the power that public data and the private market can have to change old behaviors.

Of course, now opting for the bus -- over walking, over the train, over riding a bike, over driving -- is no longer an exercise in patience and pain management.  Choosing the bus now makes sense, and this no doubt helps explain why ridership has continued to increase, with total T trips topping 400 million in 2012.

None of this could happen without the Charlie Card, it must be added.  Paying for your trip without having to fumble for change makes that trip more enjoyable and therefore more likely.

These two aspects make my favorite bus ride not simply more practical, but also more possible and therefore more probable.  You see, this was all an ode to the 83!