Archive for the ‘MBTA’ Category

Bus Plan Backfires

May 26, 2007

bus.jpegThe saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In the case of my plan to combat global warming by taking the bus, the saying applies more literally than usual.

I looked into the fuel efficiency of mass transit buses and found some surprising data. According to the U.S. government’s 2005 Transportation Energy Data Book, buses use more energy on average per passenger mile than cars—even more than SUVs! These are actual averages, based on the average car load of 1.57 persons, and the average bus load of 8.7 passengers. If you look at the bus vs. a person driving a car alone, buses are more energy efficient—but not much (only about 34%).

This led me to an interesting paradox: my own efforts to take the bus will make a difference. I can measure my CO2 savings in pounds. However, if everybody took the bus, it wouldn’t help so much. The MBTA would react to increased ridership by adding routes and frequencies until they hit their target average load (whatever that is).

The bright side of the bus, if there is one, is that mass transit does good for society in ways other than reducing carbon emissions: it reduces congestion, and it provides transportation for people who cannot afford cars. However, for the sake of fuel efficiency, I am currently tuning up my bicycle.

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Adventures on the Bus

May 24, 2007

mbta_bus.jpgBecause of global warming, I have been taking the bus as much as possible instead of driving. This gives me plenty of time to think about…what’s wrong with MBTA buses!

The Charlie Card system works great—except for people who don’t have them. As people board the bus, it takes just 2 seconds to pay a fare with a Charlie Card. Those paying with cash hold up the bus for as much as a minute while they fumble with their bills and try to get the machine to accept them. It is really annoying!

Can’t someone invent a bill acceptor that will take a crumpled up bill?

MBTA Trip Planner

March 23, 2007

tsign.jpgBoston’s public transportation system just got an awesome new tool. It is a web-based trip planner that works just like MapQuest driving directions—only instead of driving directions, you get directions by bus, train, and foot. You input a departure time (sadly, no option for desired arrival time), and the trip planner uses official bus and train schedules to figure out the fastest way to go.

The system has gotten mostly lukewarm press since its initial buggy launch on December 15. But I found it to work extremely well. It inspired me enough to order a CharlieCard for the first time. We’ll see how much I actually use it.

If the MBTA does add wireless access, email alerts, and real-time GPS bus location data to the system as promised, Boston’s public transportation will become dramatically more convenient. Imagine if there were a button you could push on your cell phone that would tell you (using your phone’s GPS location) how long before the next bus would arrive at the nearest bus stop. What about an application that would send your cell phone a text message at the exact time when you should pick up and leave your office because the bus for your commute home is five minutes away up the street? There may come a time when we see a virtuous cycle of increased convenience leading to increased ridership leading to increased routes and schedules, etc.

The new web site was built by RDVO, a Massachusetts company, at a cost of $400,000. That is a lot of money for a web site, even for a $1.3 billion enterprise like the MBTA. But in this age of global warming, I feel strongly that the new site is a step in the right direction. Perhaps other cities that do not have a system like it can benefit from the investment Boston has made.