Algorithms are the next phase in public transit

These interactions provide data about how riders use the app and navigate the transit system

Algorithms are the next phase in public transit

Transportation is the lifeline of people. Riders of Boston’s public transportation system use the Transit app to plan trips, get real-time information on service, and set alerts for departure times. These interactions provide data about how riders use the app and navigate the transit system, known as the MBTA.


Not much of development has taken place since the MBTA formed a partnership with Transit in 2016. Now, they are planning to start working on it. Daniel T. O’Brien, an associate professor at Northeastern University, is leading a team of researchers that will spend the next two years using the information to organize it into a much more accessible database, and to help make the MBTA better for the riders.


With every interaction between the user and the app, it shows how the user is choosing to navigate that public transit system. The researchers will work to shed greater light on how riders navigate the MBTA system, whether they are happy with its service, how their travel plans change when routes close or snowstorms strike, and how well-equipped the MBTA is to respond to these disruptions.


The researchers will use data from the Transit app to build algorithms and provide analyses that the MBTA can implement to improve service and refine its policies. They will also be focusing on the consumer satisfaction. Their findings will be implied beyond Boston’s transportation system. The Transit app is used in more than 175 cities worldwide, and the analyses resulting from this work can help inform how the app is being used more broadly around the world.


The Transit app has partnered with the Boston Area Research Initiative in analysing the wealth of data available.  In order to learn more about customer satisfaction, the Northeastern research team and the MBTA have discussed the idea of surveying riders who use the Transit app and comparing their attitudes toward the MBTA with how transit service performed on those riders’ routes.


They are always working on ways to improve the system according to the needs of the customers. A lot of people today prefer public transport as it is comparatively cheaper and saves time. It’s good to see that there are developments taking place in public transportation sector.


“This project will offer brand new insight into how people navigate the public transit system, and it’s more than just a one-time academic study,” O’Brien said. “The insights we produce, which themselves are novel, can be repeated and implemented consistently and incorporated into the MBTA system.” The ultimate goal is to make the MBTA system easy to use and ensure customer satisfaction.


Soumya Pandey


Soumya Pandey

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