Private company proposes new public late-night transit program

The MBTA is considering a proposal by a private company that will offer late-night bus transportation after the current MBTA transit services close at night. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is expected to decide within the next two years whether it will accept a new, late-night bus proposal that was presented by the private company Bridj on Oct. 24, according to MBTA Director of Communications Joe Pesaturo.

The Fiscal and Management Control Board of the MBTA has already heard the proposal and will not make any decision until later next year, Pesaturo said. He declined to comment on how likely the MBTA was to accept Bridj’s propsal.

At this point in time there are no estimates on how many people would use the service and how many Bridj buses the MBTA would approve, if any, according to Bridj Special Projects Lead Mary Rose Fissinger.

Over the last 15 years, only two other late-night service programs have been approved, and both ended in failure due to a lack of ridership, according to statements made by MBTA officials to Boston Magazine in December 2015.

Bridj allows users to submit requests for pick up through a smartphone app, which then sets a pick up location based on other nearby users who are headed in similar directions. According to Bridj’s Late-Night Service Proposal to the MBTA, the company’s use of small vans allows for streamlined transportation.

“Flexible pickup and drop-off points result in a 40-60 percent more efficient trip (on average) than traditional transit, at a $2 to $6 price point,” the proposal reads.

Fissinger said Bridj’s proposal will be more effective than previous attempts at late-night transportation services for those reasons.

“Our vehicles are smaller and we’re more data-driven than your traditional public transit networks, which means we can more efficiently deploy our resources,” she said.  “So if we notice that there’s really heavy demand at a certain point in time at a certain place, we can identify that and allocate vehicles there while maybe reducing coverage where there’s no demand at the same time.”

Fissinger says that the Bridj starts calculating routes by using cell phone data, and then refines these routes based on the pick-up and drop-off data collected from each user.

Bridj’s ability to change the path of vehicles will increase the MBTA’s revenues significantly by reducing cost, according to Bridj’s proposal.

The proposal also stipulates that MBTA will pay Bridj $85 per hour per vehicle, amounting to a sum of $1.55 million annually if the program were to be approved in its current form.

Fissinger describes Bridj’s current service model as similar that of Uber, except that pick-up locations will more than likely be shared by multiple users.

“Someone will open our app, they’ll drop a pin that says where they are, and they’ll drop a pin where they want to go, and they will be assigned a [shared] pickup location,” she said.  “The bus might make two or three pick-up stops, and then, depending on who’s on the vehicle, it will determine drop off locations along a corridor that we regularly service.”

According to Tufts’ Transportation, Parking and Fleet Manager Andrea Breault, Tufts students may be interested in a new late-night transit program that offers students a way to get to and from the city after after the T closes. MBTA’s Red Line service ends around 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Accordingly, the Davis Square shuttle route ends at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights,” Breault told the Daily in an email. “If there is any need to extend late-night service, I believe students would be interested in Red Line service post 2 a.m.”

Fissinger believes that students may be one of the late-night service’s primary target demographics, and says that colleges might be included in the Bridj pilot program if it is approved.

“We know that all the college students in the area are one demographic that would be interested in public transportation in late-night,” she said.  “So, we’re really interested in working with the colleges to kind of figure out what that might look like – if they are served right away as the very initial pilot program or if we were to expand to them if it showed success.”

Breault believes that the city of Boston is generally in need of a late-night service program because of its large number of late-night service job workers.

“I see the program helping those individuals who do not typically work a 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. workday,” she said. “Added late-service … would help those individuals who work service jobs at Logan Airport, Boston-area hospitals and restaurants.”


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that MBTA Director of Communications Joe Pesaturo said there were no estimates on how many people would use Bridj and how many buses would be approved, as Bridj Special Projects Leader Mary Rose Fissinger actually said this. The Daily regrets this error.