MBTA makes real-time data available

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October 1, 2010, 7:20 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) Mass transit in Boston may not always be totally reliable -- but it just got a whole lot more predictable.

Expanding a service that began late last year on five bus routes and grew to cover all 187, on Friday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Friday activated a new system that gives real-time information on the location, and expected station arrival time, of subway trains on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines.

"We are taking the guesswork out of MBTA riders' daily commutes,'' Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said during an official unveiling at the Orange Line Ruggles station, where the T showed off a new screen that shows to the minute when the next bus is expected to arrive on various routes, as well as the current location of all subway trains up and down the Orange Line.

"One of the best ways to improve the experience of riding the T is by providing customers with real-time information on where the train is, or where the bus is, and when it will arrive,'' said Murray, who has taken a special interest in rail and mass-transit upgrades as lieutenant to Gov. Deval L. Patrick. Officials said they could see the system being especially popular on nights and weekends when subways may come 10 to 12 minutes apart, rather than the shorter "headway" intervals of rush hours when riders usually only have to wait a few minutes for the next train.

The information on the Orange Line's Ruggles screen is also being made available on smartphones, thanks to software developers like George Schneeloch of Somerville, who developed an application for Android-system smart phones that takes the information on subway line train locations and presents it graphically on the screen.

Also in attendance at the event was Jared Egan, an iPhone app developer who last year built the first bus-location app when the MBTA first began making bus location available on the initial five routes, using Global Positioning System satellite receivers on buses. When the T began making subway train location information available, Egan was able to quickly add an iPhone subway app.

"It helps you feel relieved, because you know where your train is, and you know if you just missed one, it's O.K. because you realize that the next one's only five minutes'' away, Egan said.

Riders looking to buy apps for their phone can check out the T website, or search "MBTA" in your phone's application storefront.

While the system is available on the three MBTA "heavy rail" mass transit lines, it isn't on the Green Line, and probably won't be for years. MBTA officials were unwilling to spend money to outfit Green Line trolleys with GPS-based trackers because they spend so much time underground between Kenmore Square (or Northeastern University on the E branch) and North Station, where GPS can't reach. Additionally, the Green line doesn't have the same complex block-signalling system underground that helps dispatchers track the location of subway trains on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines.

MBTA general manager Richard Davey said he hopes to install more of the information screens like the one at Ruggles at stations that have a combination of both heavy rail and bus traffic, like Harvard Square on the Red Line or Haymarket on the Orange and Green Lines. In terms of further expansion of the transit-tracking technology, "Our next one we're very much focused on is commuter rail. That's a mode that we can deliver on with this in months as opposed to years.''

After all, even if it's late, there's nothing like knowing just when your bus or train will show up.

With videographer John J. Hammann

Tags: Peter Howe, MBTA, smartphone, app
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