Tuesday, September 14, 2010

T-Tracker Review

Do you remember this post from February? The one where I completely dismissed the idea of a MBTA Bus Tracking system and made disparaging comments regarding the efficacy of Boston public transit? I stand by those comments, but since MBTA officials started tagging buses with GPS devices almost a year ago, something interesting happened. While the MBTA clung to a clunky telephone service to approximate when you could expect the next bus, web developers took matter into their own hands and made something functional. Boy is it ever.

If you go to the Rider Tools section of the MBTA site, you'll see 15 (FIFTEEN) assorted apps that you can use to find the nearest bus. As I've been spending a whole lot of time waiting for the #1 these days, I decided to give it a try on the way to class today. As I don't have an iPhone/Android, I opted for the Track the T webpage. Simply tell it the Bus you want, the direction you are traveling, and the stop (intersection), and it will give you the next five buses, complete with a real-time countdown that refreshes every thirty seconds to reflect any changes. This is all very exciting on paper, but does it really work? In my limited experience, sweet Mary and Joseph does it work.

If you can resist the urge to sprint a half a mile to try and catch the bus that is a minute away, resigning yourself to the next bus allows for a certain bit of relaxation. Now you know if you have time to grab a coffee instead of looking over your shoulder the whole time, ready to throw your change at the Barista at a moment's notice. Gone are the days where you get distracted by a friend and are beyond aloof trying to keep one eye on Mass Ave. It's a liberating feeling. Walking to Central Square, I saw the next bus was 11 minutes away, and I casually made it with 3 minutes to spare. On the way home, I checked and saw the bus was 3 minutes away, and it was perfect to the SECOND. When was the last time you said that about the T? Let me answer that, NEVER.

Soon, telling you kids about the hours you spent waiting for the bus will elicit the same reaction I give to my parents when they tell me about life before the internet and they gave their parents when they heard of life without TV. It's a wonderful thing. I'm ready for my hoverboard now.


  1. I would have loved this while I was living there!! So much time wasted, freezing, getting drenched. Glad someone's finally making improvements!!

  2. Hi there - I wrote Track The T, and I'm very pleased to see that the MBTA's effort is making such a difference to people :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My bus commute definitely got a lot more pleasant when the data was released, though I had moved house by the time they finally added the crucial CT2 to the available buses.

    The point you make about it being liberating to know when a bus is not coming, rather than when it is, is an interesting one, and it's very true as well - there are frequently places where you're walking in sight of the bus stop for a very long time, and wondering whether you should break into a run or risk missing the next one with another not due for half an hour. It's surprising just how much more relaxing it makes the whole experience, just being able to see beyond the bus stop and not rely on the largely fictional timetables.

    Would you mind if I linked and quoted this writeup on the Track The T Facebook page?