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Smart Phones: Making Buses Cool Again?

Smart phones may make buses increasingly popular among commuters.
Martine Powers, Globe Staff

If you’re lucky enough to live close to an MBTA subway line, you might have a case of something that I like to call “T snobbery.”

A “T snob” refers to a person who uses the subway system every day, but could count on two hands the number of times she’s ridden a bus in the Boston area.

It’s a problem that has plagued transportation agencies in Massachusetts and around the country: How to encourage people to stop viewing bus transit as a second-class form of transportation?

A new report released Tuesday by a left-leaning advocacy group, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, may provide some solutions.

The report, “A New Way to Go: The Apps, Maps, and New Technologies that are Giving More Americans Freedom to Drive Less,” focuses on how technology and smart phone applications can transform the public transit industry. According to the report, the biggest deterrents to using public transportation are a perceived lack of security, a scarcity of timely and accurate service information, and concerns about reliability and lengthy wait times.

Smart phones, the report argues, can fix all those problems by allowing commuters to report safety issues in moments and quickly gain access to real-time bus arrival data, as well as simplify the process of planning a trip and identifying the bus routes to take.

(Fun fact: According to the report, only 52.5 percent of people given a paper system map and a timetable can successfully plan a public transportation trip.)

In particular, the report brought attention to a transit planning application available in Boston called Nextime. The app combines real-time bus tracking data with the phone’s built in GPS, and provides the exact time the user must step out of his door to catch the bus at the nearest stop.

“Transit users can greatly minimize the hassles of transit use—waiting for a long time at a stop, or failing to catch the bus at all,” the report said. “Effective use of the application can greatly increase the perceived reliability of transit as a means to get around effectively.”

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