People strike different postures while waiting for a bus. Some do the shiver, clutching their lapels as they hide behind bus shelters attempting to stay warm. There are the runners, who risk inciting car crashes as they weave through traffic, neckties aflutter, to catch departing buses. Then there are the giraffes, with stretched-out necks, squinting down the roadway in hopes of spotting an arrival.
Is there not some way to bring a measure of dignity to this process?
The T has been trying to make the wait easier, by getting more instant arrival information to passengers so they can grab a cup of coffee if they know a bus will take a while, or can walk a little faster if a bus is near.
Two weeks ago, the transit agency introduced a pilot program, called T-Tracker, which uses GPS technology to let passengers track the arrival times of buses on five lines by making a telephone call or going online.
I tested the phone version last week, with mixed results.
First, the automated voice asked me to punch in my bus stop number. This will be a problem for most passengers because the bus stop number is not listed anywhere at the bus stop. Not on the shelter, not on the pole where the schedule is posted. You need to find it online, which I had luckily done in advance.
The voice on the other end of the line told me my bus would arrive in nine minutes. And it was right. (Actually two buses came at that time.)
I stayed at the bus stop, and tried T-Tracker again. The second time, T-Tracker said my bus would arrive in nine minutes, at 1:56 p.m. As I waited, I got impatient, so I called again. This time, it said my bus would actually arrive at 2:01, about five minutes later. I'm guessing my bus got stuck in traffic or the driver took a quick break. The second bus arrived at 2:01.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo reiterated that this is a pilot project, indicating that the T is still working out the kinks.
Each bus automatically reports its location every minute, and the system is designed to adjust arrival information if progress slows due to a traffic back-up or some other problem, he said. If a bus breaks down and is removed from service, the system will begin counting down to the next bus in line, he said.
He said the transit agency is in the process of printing new schedule cards that will include bus stop numbers. Employees will also consider other ways of getting that information out if the program is rolled out to include other bus routes. (So far, it's limited to routes 39, 111,114, 116, and 117.)
Pesaturo said customer feedback on accuracy has been positive so far, and that many commuters want the program expanded to include more lines. So far, the phone version of T-Tracker has been used by about 35 callers a day, with about 1,670 visitors per day checking the online version, he said.
T-Tracker is not the only tracking service. The state's new transportation department has been publishing raw data online, in hopes of sparking efforts from independent programmers. So far, there have been eight applications with real-time information created for smartphones, texting services, and other devices, said Colin Durrant, a transportation spokesman.
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