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Starts & Stops

More accurate bus predictions coming to MBTA

Bus riders should expect more-reliable information about their trips after a new tracking system is installed.
Bus riders should expect more-reliable information about their trips after a new tracking system is installed.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2018)

Bus riders should expect better information about their trips: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has hired a company to produce more accurate predictions of when buses will arrive at their stops.

On Thursday, the T began using a forecasting system from San Francisco-based Swiftly that will produce more accurate data about bus locations and arrivals than the current system, the authority said.

Third-party mobile apps, such as Transit and ProximiT, use the T’s data to broadcast arrivals to commuters. Riders who use those apps won’t need to do anything to begin receiving the improved forecasts.

The previous tracking data had long been inconsistent, with the T acknowledging arrival information is accurate only about 70 percent of the time. During its bid for the $15,500-a-month contract, Swiftly demonstrated that its predictions would be right about 84 percent of the time, said the MBTA’s chief technology officer, David Block-Schachter. And he expects that number to improve over time.

While the T has said major improvements on long-neglected physical infrastructure will still take years, it has made better communication with riders a priority. The aim is to at least let them know when buses and trains are late, and by how much.

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“In the realm of things we can do for our customers quickly, compared to the big things we have to spend money on . . . I can’t think of more bang for the buck,” Block-Schachter said.

Bus predictions are based partially on real-time updates about where buses are located but also on historical performance of the bus routes, based on the day and time, Swiftly vice president Paul Swiencicki said. On its website, Swiftly says it works with more than 45 other cities and transit agencies.

The estimates will also improve as the T installs new technology on buses that can produce more up-to-date information about their locations: every few seconds, compared with about once a minute under current technology.

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So far, 300 of the T’s approximately 1,000 buses have new trackers, and the rest will be installed over the next six weeks. That technology, Block-Schachter said, can also provide early alerts about engine issues, allowing workers to more quickly repair a broken-down bus.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.