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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shuttle service can be improved through innovation

Published: March 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

One of the great things about going to school at Brandeis is that the exciting city of Boston is only a half-hour drive, and students still get to live on a distinct campus. Luckily we have Joseph’s Transportation shuttles running into Boston and Cambridge every Thursday through Sunday. However, this system is flawed as it leaves students waiting out in the cold and buses idling next to Rabb. Though Brandeis is not completely responsible for the shuttles as it is an outside company, this is starting to become ridiculous.

On Fridays, the shuttle is usually late. While Brandeis cannot do anything about the amount of traffic causing this problem, students still have to wait an absurd amount of time outside in the freezing cold weather. On Friday, Feb. 7, the shuttle scheduled to depart from Rabb at 5 p.m. arrived at Rabb at 5:18 p.m., Harvard Square at 6:24 p.m., and Beacon Street at 6:39 p.m. Therefore, it was 50 minutes late to Harvard Square and 40 minutes late to Beacon Street. Again, on Friday, Feb. 28, almost the same thing happened. The shuttle scheduled to depart from Rabb at 5 p.m. did not come until 5:21 p.m. and did not arrive at Harvard Square until 6:15 p.m. and Beacon Street until 6:39 p.m., 40 minutes late to both locations.

On Fridays, there is always a lot of traffic because everyone is driving home for the weekend. If there were a GPS tracker connected to an app that students could download on their phones or view online allowing them to track the location of the shuttles, students would be able to plan around when the shuttles actually would arrive rather than when they were scheduled to do so. This would eliminate up to almost an hour of wait time. When temperatures drop into single digits or even the teens, standing outside for long periods of time becomes not only unfair, but also quite dangerous.

On Saturday and Sunday the shuttles do not have the same traffic problems, so they usually do not arrive so late. On the contrary, they actually arrive too early and end up idling outside Rabb for 20 minutes contributing to pollution. For instance, last Saturday, March 1, the shuttle arrived at Rabb at 4:47 p.m. and left at 5:01 p.m. then later arrived back at Rabb at 6:08 p.m. and waited around for 23 minutes before its scheduled departure time. Buses should not be just wasting time for 20 minutes.

If there were a GPS tracker that told students when the buses were scheduled to arrive, the buses could leave right away and thus run much more efficiently. This would save time and resources. However, a schedule running on an inconsistent basis is hardly a schedule. We cannot assume that all students have smart phones or at least have service or battery all the time and would be able to check this app for the bus’ arrival time.

Therefore, the first step would be to change the original schedule to match up with the actual arrival times, for if the bus is consistently 20 minutes early, then clearly the schedule leaves too much time for each cycle. Then, after the schedule more accurately reflects the bus’ route for Saturday and Sunday, the app could predict whether the bus will be a few minutes early or late, compared to the schedule posted online. So the bus will not leave until the newly scheduled time so that everyone knows that the bus will always be there before a certain time, but if the bus happens to be late, students can plan according to the expected arrival time they see on their phone.

Project Cedar, an Android app development club on campus, recently applied to the Senate to be chartered, and one of their ideas was an app for the BranVan, which also tends to be quite late especially in the winter. If they can successfully create and market an app for the BranVan, then they should definitely expand this technology to the Joseph’s shuttles. Granted, this app would have to work for iPhones as well, but at least this idea is off to a start. If this app becomes a Brandeis-wide project, then the entire Brandeis transportation system will run more efficiently.