Much of the most innovative thinking now focuses on improving the passenger experience, instead of the more difficult challenge of moving buses faster along crowded streets. But city planners, armed with affordable global-positioning and computer technology, hope that meeting these seemingly modest goals can make bus trips a far more pleasurable, even productive, experience.
With fuel costs high and public concern for the environment rising, some public transportation officials sense an opportunity to challenge the car’s preeminence.
“The more communication that happens between citizens, the stronger the urban garden,” said Federico Casalegno, an MIT sociologist who led the team that developed the futuristic bus stop prototype.
At the heart of much of the new thinking is a concept that some urban planners call “smart mobility” — integrating the flow of people with the flow of information. Whereas transit companies have traditionally seen their passengers as ciphers who want nothing more than to be physically moved from one place to another, the future of transit reform lies in seeing these passengers as active participants in a constantly evolving information cluster. The transportation system should share as much information with passengers as possible — how buses are flowing, when the next one is expected. It should give passengers access to information about the outside world — from international news, to e-mail, to data about the passing neighborhoods. And passengers, in turn, should be empowered to share information with the system and, if they want, with fellow riders.
“The general concept is to increase connections between people, places, and transportation systems,” said Casalegno, who is the director of the Mobile Experience Laboratory at MIT. “It shouldn’t just be about getting from Point A to Point B.”