21 ways to fix the MBTA now: AI for the win
Boston’s public transit system is on the verge of disaster: stations are crumbling, staff are underpaid and undertrained, and safety incidents are rampant. Boston Magazine spoke with twenty-one insiders on how to solve the crisis, including IDSS affiliate Jinhua Zhao.
6. A.I. for the Win
Jinhua Zhao, professor of city and transportation planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When something significant happens on public transportation—the line is down, the road is congested, some bridge is blocked—the customer is suddenly stuck in the system and needs more help. For when that happens, we developed a solution to send individualized guidance for a better transit option to that person, communicated by text message or an app. If the MBTA adopts the program, it would help both the individual customer and also the whole system.
This initiative requires a close to real-time understanding of the system status. If a portion of the Red Line is down, it would need to know how the bus lines are performing—if it guides you to bus route 1, and it is already congested and crowded, you are not going to get a seat. That’s not useful.
The program needs to know not only where the passenger is going but also whether the passenger prefers the bus or train. Is he sensitive to pricing? Is he okay to walk for 10 minutes? And then it needs the optimization algorithm that, given all this information, develops a recommendation with the purpose of improving the overall system efficiency.
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