The MBTA Gets One Right

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It has almost become blood sport in these parts to pick on the MBTA. I’m not sure if its the ability to gripe in real time through social media, the hyperavailability of the MBTA’s new General Manager Rich Davey, or the crushing maintenance backlog hobbling their operations. Probably a combination of all three.

But they are doing some thing right, really right.

If you are a regular rider and not using any of their tracking apps, you should give it a try. These apps turn the unknown of taking the T (how long do I have to wait for the next bus? When is the next train arriving?) and turns it into a known. You can now track 3 of the 4 subways lines and the bus lines.

And you can do it across multiple platforms – personally, I use the “Track the T” app on my desktop and an Ipad at home. But there are also multiple Iphone and Android options. There’s even a text service – you text your bus route and stop number to 617 299-6951 and it texts back when the next two buses will arrive.

These apps eliminate that irritating open-ended wait for the T and made me a much more satisfied user. In fact, research has shown that knowing arrival times raised customer satisfaction by 24% (without any actual change in service levels).

More subtly, but perhaps more important from a public policy perspective, the MBTA should be lauded for its strategic insight. Rather than conducting a lengthy procurement process and building an application that they think you want, the T has put itself in the postion of ‘wholesaling’ information – putting raw data out there and letting independent developers use it to build apps that the market wants. All at a modest cost the T (particularly modest relative to a building something in-house.)

Knowing when your train or bus will arrive, to the second, is a valuable tool. Go give it a try if you haven’t already.

Crossposted at Boston Daily.