Thursday, March 29, 2018

A short history of the new early morning bus service

Back in the halcyon days of March, 2016, I wrote a series of blog posts about overnight transit after the T unceremoniously axed late night transit service. I had them all planned out (if not fully written) and posted the first one at 8:30 on a Thursday morning before I went to work. (My blog posts in Pacific Time for no apparent reason.) The first post was about how the T should be clearer about when and where it provides early morning transit service, rather than burying the details on paper schedules and webpages.

It was popular, apparently. Several thousand views that day alone and it's still one of the most read posts on this page. It caused a shouting match of sorts on Universal Hub with one commenter saying the current schedules which showed the trips with five-point-font notes were adequate (I'm still not sure why) which resulted in Stuart Spina stepping in and dropping the mic:
Is it really that hard to just publish a special Sunrise timetable?  
AND CAN THE BUSES ACTUALLY BE SIGNED UP FOR THEIR ROUTES!!!???  
Frank's voice tells you when the doors open that the bus is "Route 192 with service to Haymarket" and yet the sign says "39 HAYMARKET" "39 VIA FOREST HILLS"…
But the best part was an email I received from the T at 11:52 a.m., barely four hours after the blog post went live from a service planner there:
Greetings. The MBTA received the following customer feedback this morning, which referenced your blog post. I can’t vouch for what he says are errors in your post, but I thought you might be interested to hear it. 
Issue Reported by the customer: Customer called to say that there is a website called amateurplanner.blogspot.com that gives a list of all the early morning bus trip . The problem is the blog is not giving out correct information. mainly on the 57 to boston and rts 117 leaving haymarket and the 109 . He would like to know if mbta could create a separate schedule in the packets for the early morning bus trip , He states that everyone does not know how to read the schedules and that’s why there is little ridership. This would stop independent bloggers from giving out incorrect information. 
As for your post, I agree that the information may be difficult to find for some users, but just like all other bus schedule info, it is available on our paper and HTML schedules for the relevant routes (e.g., the 194 trips shows up on both the 89 and 93), as well as our GTFS feed. The 191-194 numbers are purely for internal purposes in our scheduling software, and not as some sort of obfuscation. They are so different from the normal routes that we decided they should have separate route numbers rather than be listed as a variant of a normal route. Most users would likely find the normal route numbers less confusing, so that’s what the public sees when they see these trips on schedules or Trip Planner. Just as these trips are listed under the normal routes that make up the early morning trips, if you plan a trip with Google Maps or Trip Planner that uses the 194, it will display it as 89/93. 
I can see how a separate page about early AM routes might be helpful to some folks, but if I were a regular 89 or 93 rider, I would still want to have the early AM options for my route on my paper schedule for those routes, since that’s what I care about—not early AM options for the other side of town. I’ll bring up this idea for a separate sunrise service page with my colleagues, and also discuss whether we can improve how these early AM trips are described.
Let's unpack that a bit. First, in the letter written to the T, it's unclear exactly going on. A customer called to tell the T there is a website. Wait, really? Someone read my blog and was so incensed they called the T? And then they tip their hand. Note they go to "he would like to know …" and "He states …" Wait, who states? The customer? Or the website? I am convinced to this day that the T called themselves up and sent in this comment, particularly because it was sent to me barely four hours after the blog post went up.

If so, it would be either the quickest the T has ever responded to anything, or a testament to the fact that they really should have better things to do.

My response was that my information was not wrong (although I made some clarifications) and as Stuart pointed out it is confusing when the ASA announcement is different from the bus's head sign. And what would preclude keeping that information on the paper maps, as well as creating a special website? They're not mutually exclusive.

I thought my post was equivocal and fair. But apparently I'd touched a nerve.

Long story short: a week later, we'd (we = TransitMatters) proposed the entire night bus plan on this blog and in Commonwealth Magazine. Since then, we've been through several iterations of the plan with the T in fits and starts, and we're working on launching a 24/7 bus route pilot in addition to earlier service (and a dedicated web page for it, although I think some mapping would help) on these additional routes. It's been two years, but hopefully this is the start of building, as I called it two years ago: robust, equitable and efficient overnight transit.

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