Trains, Buses, Bikes, and Sandwiches… There Should Be an App For That

Earlier today we brought you a story about a new and potentially dangerous technological innovation – Facebook in cars. To help end the week on a higher note, here’s some far more encouraging news on the transportation tech front.

A challenge to app developers aims to help this Boston bike-sharer plan his route, especially if it's lunch time. Photo: The Fosbury Flop

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in issuing a challenge to software developers: Create three new programs that combine real-time transit, bike-sharing, and even food truck data, in order to demonstrate how transit and bike-sharing complement each other.

Boston rolled out their new 60-station, 600-cycle bike-sharing system, called Hubway and sponsored by shoe maker New Balance, last July. It has been so successful — logging 140,000 trips in just four months — that Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council is overseeing its expansion to 90 stations and 900 bikes starting next year. But in addition to upping the number of bikes, Boston hopes to make Hubway more useful to its customers in other ways.

The MBTA/MassDOT challenge is really three separate challenges:

  • A software application that combines transit schedules and real-time Hubway bike availability to display possible connections between the two modes;
  • A visualization of “A day in the Life” of Boston’s transit and bike-sharing systems, possibly along the lines of what Oliver O’Brien has done for London; and, as a bonus,
  • The BLT (Bikes, Lunch, & T) Challenge, with the goal of helping “residents and visitors learn about and get to Boston’s food trucks.”

The winners of the first two challenges will each receive a year-long transit pass and a year-long membership to Hubway; all three challenge winners will receive a free pass to area food truck festivals.

Other cities are seizing on the wealth of travel data generated by bike-sharing systems. Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) has kept its promise to post individual trip data, opening the door for similar visualizations. New York City’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan looks forward to the robust and precise route data her city’s bike-sharing system will yield when it begins operating this year.

Read the full description of Boston’s challenge – and download the applicable data – here.

We will be off for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next week. Have a safe weekend, and we will see you back here on Tuesday.