Bridj hopes to make public transit personalized, data-based and direct.
One of the most frustrating aspects of planning public transportation — or living your life around it — is its various degrees of permanence. Underground metros and, to a lesser extent, streetcars rely on expensive construction, investment in which policymakers in the U.S. have been notoriously loathe to bring about. Thus, entire neighborhoods may lose or gain property value based on their proximity to public transit, and entire cities sometimes seem built based on decisions made as much as a hundred years ago. Buses are usually slower and not as fiercely defended by residents, but the easy changeability of their routes, since they use the roads also trafficked by cars and pedestrians, seems to leave them destined to fill in whatever gaps are left by the faster forms of transit. But a new pop-up bus service in Boston might change your perception of the city bus forever.
Bridj is a ‘smart’ bus – instead of repeatedly plodding along a conventional route, it adjusts its plans according to data from myriad sources, including Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, and municipal records. In a similar manner to Uber, real-time smartphone apps alert waiting passengers to arrival times. Currently, its routes are nonstop between Brookline and Downtown Boston, as well as Brookline and Cambridge. A Bridj ticket currently costs $6, as opposed to the T’s $2 fare or a $1.50 bus fare, but one of the bus’s selling points is its luxury features, which include Wifi and the kind of plush seats that don’t usually see a long life on public transit, as well as its speed, getting passengers to their destination in about a third of the time a comparable route on public transit takes.
The founder of Bridj, Matthew George, is just 23, but he clearly has the entrepreneur’s gift of finding markets in unexpected places. While still a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, he was part of the team that worked on BreakShuttle, what he told the New York Times is the nation’s largest network of pop-up shuttle services for college students going home on break. It has thus far served 15 colleges but will be expanding to 40 this fall.
Bridj has similar hopes of rapid expansion; it hopes to have its ‘shuttle’-style routes both multiply and diversify in smaller, more van-like vehicles. And best of all, they hope the small, personal scale of the system will bring users into closer contact with each other, instead of the ethic of avoidance that seems to dominate services like Uber. As they say on their blog, they hope their passengers will “become BFF’s with each other.” In city transit planning, that’s certainly something to toast to.