Monday, February 15, 2010


From the brilliant minds that brought you a subway that closes at 12:30, a Red line that is a "danger to life and limb", and a bus system that rivals Toyota's brakes in reliability comes the MBTA's newest way to foster disappointment and resentment: The T-Tracker!

The T-Tracker offers GPS-based arrival times for customers riding the MBTA bus routes. Currently only available on five of the busiest bus lines, the T-Tracker offers "real-time arrival time predictions" for stranded customers, eliminating the emotional rollercoaster associated with waiting for any sort of public transportation. When you are waiting for a bus with a friend, a conversation of this mold is inevitable.

"Is that a 7 or a 1?"

"I can't tell, but I just saw a flock of 77's go up Mass Ave, so we probably have another hour."

"It says every 10-12 minutes here, but it's been like 40, easy."

"Why didn't you tell me to wear a hat?"

I have this conversation with JL on a weekly basis. Sometimes I resort to putting a plastic bag on my head as a windshield, but most times I try to fashion a burqa out of my scarf and compose angry emails in my head to MBTA authorities.

With the T-Tracker, you only need your stop number (which is conveniently nowhere to be found at any bust stop I've ever waited at) and a cell phone. Simply call 617-517-3917 from your touch tone phone, and a friendly humanoid will impatiently prompt you for your stop number. Key it in, and said male voice will gently approximate the arrival times for the two closest buses. If you've listened to a children's book on tape in your life, you will recognize this man's voice. He has a cool, steady diction, one that could easily lure you to your death in a sci-fi movie, until he pronounces the word 'inbound' like a cyborg and the jig is up. Not quite there yet, but a far cry from the Red-Line automaton that butchers 'ASHMONT' 500 times a day.

I'm afraid I can't speak to the accuracy of the T-Tracker, as it is only in use on a few lines (and I'm not interested in taking a field trip), but I did a little investigating, and here's what I found. An alarming amount of times, the T-Tracker sadly informed me that it had "No Current Predictions" for me. To me, this either meant that the bus is SO FAR away, that the complex algorithm that determines wait times is insufficient, or the MBTA bus somehow chewed off its GPS tracker like an angry dog and left it in a gutter. Both are equally disconcerting. More often than not, the wait time ranged from 10-20 minutes. However, if you've ever waited for an MBTA bus, this should be your first red flag.

I think the T-Tracker is an interesting idea, but will inevitably be the cause of more frustration and grumblings than it alleviates. Anytime you try to affix a schedule to something that sits in traffic and is 30 feet long, you introduce a certain amount of error. What the MBTA should have done was remove all bus schedules entirely and adapted a new slogan. MBTA: We'll get there when we get there.

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