What is Smart Bus?
Smart Bus is a software-based transit service that routes buses dynamically in response to demand. It does not have a fixed route or schedule, but rather allows commuters to plug in their locations via smart phone, and then computes the best route by which to pick them up. Many commutes are lengthened by arduous connections between transit lines; Smart Bus reduces these connections, thereby reducing the headache that complicated commutes can bring.
Basically, Smart Bus lets you create a public transit route and schedule that works specifically for you.
Beyond creating completely new dynamic routes, Smart Bus will also complement existing fixed routes by connecting shorter, localized trips to fixed-route buses, commuter rail, and subway station locations. Both of these functions are part of the broader goals of reducing travel times, reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles, and improving access to real-time vehicle arrival information.
Initially during the pilot period, Smart Bus will serve the Route 128 Corridor of Massachusetts. However, once we get the system up and running, we will hand the technology out to other transportation companies throughout Massachusetts, and eventually throughout the nation.
How Does Smart Bus Work?
Customers will request a trip via a smart phone application. More specifically, they will plug in their current locations, their intended destinations, and when they need to arrive. The "central dispatch system" (i.e. a software algorithm) will then factor in distance, bus capacity, gas mileage, etc. to determine whether it is possible to pick each customer up.
Example: Johnny is standing at intersection ABC and one of our buses is located just a mile away when he enters his location. The Smart Bus System notifies the driver that Johnny is looking to be dropped off at XYZ, and since there are 5 open seats on the bus, the driver is able to pick up Johnny and bring him to XYZ as part of a minor adjustment to the route.
Public transit options within suburban communities and lower-density urban communities alike are often infrequent or simply non-existent, forcing citizens to rely on personal vehicles. By eliminating the need for fixed routes, flexible transit services will thus encourage riders to try (and ultimately depend upon) alternate modes of transportation. The Smart Bus service is designed to give consumers the peace of mind and flexibility that is typically associated with personal vehicles, while also connecting travelers with regional transit services and major public transit hubs.
Smart Bus offers the best of both worlds: (a) the freedom, previously associated exclusively with personal cars, to travel on your own schedule, avoiding multi-segment trips that take you well out of your way, while still giving you (b) the freedom to sit back and relax (or even work!) while someone else does the driving.
The Target Market for the initial pilot phase of Smart Bus service includes a variety of individuals including, but not limited to:
- Employees of businesses within range of a Smart Bus station location
- Residents within range of a Smart Bus station location (a population that currently realizes limited direct benefits of the 128 Business Council’s Fixed-Route Service Structure)
- MBTA Commuter Rail passengers
Smart Bus will be integrated whenever possible with the Council’s existing fixed-route services and other area transportation providers including MBTA commuter rail, subway, and fixed-route bus services.
As previously stated, however, once we move beyond the pilot phase, the software will be handed out throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then the nation, making the Target Market ultimately limitless!
How is Smart Bus Designed?
Smart Bus will require a robust, fully-integrated system of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) hardware and software applications to facilitate vehicle location, scheduling, dispatching, routing, trip assignment, electronic manifesting, and optionally, fare collection capabilities in real-time. These capabilities are required for Smart Bus customers to remotely request service in real-time or in advance (via mobile devices, tablets, or personal computers), and pay their fares before boarding. The Smart Bus technology must be able to integrate adaptive predictive algorithms to the vehicle assignment, trip booking, and routing algorithms used to deliver services in real-time. Additionally, the vehicle routing algorithms must consider real-time traffic, weather, and other external data which will affect the Smart Bus service delivery.
Flexible transit services should not be confused with ride-sharing or taxi-hailing applications. Similar to the Smart Bus concept, these applications leverage the near ubiquity of personal mobile devices to connect consumers to existing modal choices. However, unlike these applications which connect consumers to travel modes on a peer-to-peer basis, Smart Bus requires that the apportionment of trips occur between the rider and the "central dispatch system" and between the central dispatch and the vehicle manifest. While flexible routes can be considered an intermediary between taxi services and fixed-routes, the financial viability of Smart Bus is dependent on increasing the vehicle utility, and hence decreasing traveler delay.
Smart Bus Project Schedule
The following section provides a schedule for the Smart Bus proof-of-concept. This 56 week schedule is based on a systems engineering approach and presents a realistic scenario by which to bring the Smart Bus proof-of-concept to reality. This schedule assumes that funding has been secured for the procurement of technologies for the proof-of-concept to proceed. The tasks are defined as follows:
- Smart Bus Operating Plan (8 weeks) – Defines the service criteria for Smart Bus.
- Revise Functional Specification (4 weeks) – Revises the existing specifications to omit optional technologies and broadens the functional requirements of certain system aspects. This task could be completed concurrently with Operating Plan to reduce schedule float.
- Prepare & Reissue RFP (4 weeks) – The RFP will be revised to include the updated functional specifications and to refine the grading criteria that would be used to evaluate vendors. Vendors should be allowed 4 weeks to submit a response. Proposal evaluations and interviews will require a minimum of 4 weeks before a vendor is selected and a notice to proceed is issued.
- Design Reviews (12 weeks) – A preliminary design review will serve as the kickoff with the vendor and will serve as a basis for reviewing the functional requirements and compliance matrix. A final design review would occur 8-12 weeks following the kickoff.
- System Testing (16 weeks) – A series of tests (Factory, Mini-Fleet, and Systems) will be held.
- Burn-in Test & Systems Acceptance (4 weeks) – Final system acceptance would occur approximately 4 weeks after the systems test, as well as after the successful completion of a 30-day burn-in. Revenue service would begin at this point.
The purpose of the Smart Bus is to harness advances in commonly-used technology to change the delivery of transit service in suburban and lower-density markets. The objective is to facilitate transit service delivery, on- demand, and in real-time to more closely mirror the travel demand that exists in these lower-density markets.
128 Business Council has proposed a proof-of-concept, a pilot program aimed at demonstrating and evaluating the viability of flexible transit solutions in the greater Boston region. The intent of this proof-of-concept is to seek and procure services from vendors of transit software, trip planning systems, fare-vending systems, and other relevant hardware, software, and intellectual services through a systems integrator framework to implement the Smart Bus operation. Subsequently, Smart Bus will be deployed and evaluated.
Despite advances in the transit technology spectrum which now allow transportation providers (and customers) to track and locate vehicles in real-time, few have developed products that would allow for flexible, dynamically routed, and on-demand service. Smart Bus requires a novel, technology-based approach to accomplish the intended service delivery.
Risks and challenges
The first big challenge in trying to get this technology off the ground is a lack of current vendor options. There are a number of vendors who produce technologies that allow transit agencies to monitor and locate vehicles in real‐time, but very few have developed products that would allow for flexible, dynamically‐routed on‐demand service. There is currently a pilot in Helsinki (Kutsuplus) that is very similar to what we are trying to do. However, no transit of this type currently exists in the United States.
The second big challenge is ensuring the project's success after development. If we are to fill the gap between personal cars and traditional public transit, then we must win over those who are not already using public transit or other alternative forms of transport. The key to this challenge is going to be education and outreach.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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