As we exited the train, these excellent T digital displays (complete with clocks) were just flipping from 11:00 to 11:01, flipping at the same time as my cell phone. Piece of cake. A very short walk to the busway, hop on the bus, and we will be home to see the painful report on the local news of our choice.
However, as we walked through the turnstiles, we could see the 77 bus passing through the busway. The bus was gone before the T-clocks flipped to 11:02. The next bus was 11:16. We were now stuck with a 14 minute wait for a bus.
The 74 bus to Belmont came through the busway. It was scheduled to leave at 11:00, and I am sure the half-dozen people who came off the 11:00 Red Line train and boarded the bus were delighted that their bus was three minutes late.
This gave me some time to stand there and play with the Mass Transit app, and I quickly did a little math. The 77 bus runs at a 13 minute interval, but the Red Line runs at a 12 minute interval. The loudspeakers in the station announced an inbound train, and an Alewife bound train came through at about 11:12. The people on that train wandered up to the bus platform. At 11:17, a 77 bus appeared in the busway and the people on the platform filled the bus.
Here’s my public policy question. If my iPhone can tell me the schedule, and the T technology can send an announcement that a train is entering the station, why can’t we bring the two technologies together to coordinate the buses with the trains?
First, let’s look at the 13 minute headway silliness on the 77 bus. If the trains run every 12 minutes, why do the buses run every 13 minutes? All this does is put the schedules so badly out of sync that some folks might be lucky and wait a minute or two for the bus, but others are condemned to a 12 minute wait.
If we put the bus on the same 12-minute headway, here’s the wonderful thing we can do. We can calculate the time the outbound train is scheduled to arrive at the station, add three minutes for the walk to the platform, and time the buses to provide an easy and convenient transfer.
Meanwhile, up at the bus layover area, the same computer that sends the notification to the passengers on the platform could also send a signal to the bus driver. Train leaves the station, buses are called, and they pick up the passengers who just walked off the train.
For the buses with longer headways, the buses could leave on a multiple of 12 (or the interval between trains). With this kind of coordination, an Arlington passenger could actually calculate whether the best option would be to connect with a 77 at Harvard, an 86 at Davis, or a 79 or 350 at Alewife. A Burlington-bound rider could actually calculate which outbound Red Line train he needed to be on to connect to the 350 at Alewife. A new Green Line station at Route 16 in Medford would be much more useful if buses to Arlington and Medford were coordinated.
And so it goes for the rest of the system. Quincy, Forest Hills, Wellington, Wonderland, all could be more transit-friendly, and less dependent on parking garages, if the buses were aligned to the trains.
It doesn’t seem to be a terribly difficult problem to solve. So why don’t we actually do this?