City buses normally travel set routes, rumbling from stop to stop to pick up passengers at the same time every day.
But imagine a bus that could tell a One Direction concert at Gillette Stadium was going to cause a surge in demand from boy-crazy Boston teens in early August. What if it knew a group of employees needed to get to a new office — and started a shuttle service from their neighborhoods every morning?
That’s the idea behind Bridj, a “pop-up” bus service that uses real-time data to figure out where people are and where they want to go. Launched in Boston recently by 23-year-old wunderkind Matthew George, Bridj attracted a flood of interest for its trial runs.
To track travel patterns, the service analyzes home and work ZIP codes of riders. It uses GPS data from passengers’ phones (in exchange for a fare discount), and combs the Internet for Facebook updates, tweets, and Foursquare check-ins. It also factors in special events, like a Patriots game, to predict spikes in travel demand.
George started raising funds for Bridj last summer, attracting investors from the car-sharing service Zipcar to the Cambridge venture capital firm General Catalyst. He envisions a nationwide “living, breathing” mass transit system that gets smarter as more people use it.
All signs point toward a surge in shared or public transportation. Nearly half of Bostonians between the ages of 18 and 34 don’t have a car. Nationwide, the number of households without cars has risen by two-thirds in the past two decades.
For George, fresh out of Middlebury College in Vermont, the quest is bigger than a bus. It’s about using new technologies to redesign a 100-year-old way of thinking and build a transportation system for the 21st century.