Cambridge greenlights Bridj on-demand bus pilot
After months of negotiations, Cambridge has greased the wheels for the on-demand bus service Bridj to run a six-month pilot program in the city.
The approval signals a change of heart by the city, which had outlined strict operating restrictions in a letter sent to the company over the summer. At the time, Bridj’s chief executive, Matthew George, said the rules would “essentially ban” the service from Cambridge, where it is headquartered.
“We’re tremendously pleased with the city of Cambridge’s decision,” George said Thursday. “We would have loved to see it go a little bit smoother; however, it is a testament to the public process.”
Bridj is a data-driven shuttle service that uses smartphone data to adjust routes to the locations of its passengers, at least in theory. The company has yet to launch its full service to the public and now operates bus shuttles on fixed routes from Coolidge Corner to the Seaport, Coolidge Corner to Kendall Square, Allston to the Seaport, and South Boston to Longwood.
The company announced intentions earlier this year to begin flexible routes in Boston and Cambridge in October. But those plans have been postponed until the end of the year.
“We decided to hold off on the expansion until we felt that the technology was up to the level that we felt comfortable with,” said Ryan Kelly, Bridj’s marketing manager. “We feel like we’ll be there very, very soon.”
Bridj has run into regulatory issues similar to other transportation start-ups, such as Uber and Lyft.
The most common problem for Bridj: Most cities don’t have any regulations applicable to a roaming bus without set routes.
Still, the company applied for jitney licenses in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge. The first two municipalities approved the licenses, but Cambridge officials responded in August with a letter saying that Bridj could not use many of its proposed stops in and around Harvard Square, Kendall Square, and Central Square.
The letter was issued by the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department. At least one Cambridge city councilor said the concerns were not a reflection of the views of elected officials.
The new rules for the six-month pilot, outlined earlier this week, include some restrictions. Bridj cannot use the bus stop in front of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School because of traffic congestion. Nor can it use one on Main Street in Kendall Square.
Over the trial period, the city will evaluate noise, safety, and congestion issues, among other things.
Once the pilot program has concluded, the Transportation Department and Bridj will prepare a report for the license commission, which will consider permanent approval.
“I think this is a credit to both sides for approaching each other with the patience and understanding that a new idea deserves,” Mayor David Maher said in a statement.
“Bridj, along with other new transportation services, are going to be a part of the City’s sustainability and traffic reduction goals well into the future.”
• 8/11: Bridj to expand on-demand bus service in area