MBTA Transparency Back on Track

*This is a re-post and was not written for original release on MassYRs webpage*

Today, the MBTA released its long-anticipated performance dashboard, bringing with it a sleek and interactive new website full of data metrics and detailed explanations of the data.

Highlights and new features of the appropriately named mbtabackontrack.com include but are not limited to access to performance data from the prior day, ability to put data into historical context, info on the Green Line and every bus route, and ridership and financial statistics.

The website promises to be a valuable tool, and it will regularly expose parts of the T’s performance for the first time in over a year. For example, the T this fiscal year has spent $259.86 million on debt service, just under a quarter of its total outlays. Also, although only 3 percent of respondents were ‘extremely satisfied’ with the T’s service, 60 percent are ‘extremely likely’ to continue riding the T.

Despite its improvements and new features, there is still plenty of room for improvement on the dashboard. For starters, there are some minor problems with the website’s core functions that must be addressed, including a Contact Us form that doesn’t submit and a peak vs. off-peak comparison that doesn’t work.

Minor hiccups aside, there are other features that could seriously bolster this tool’s capabilities. First, it would be great to see on-time performance data for the commuter rail by station, to see if there are certain parts of the route that are specifically causing delays. This might allow riders to opt for another station that is more likely to run on time. Additionally, adding on-time data for each scheduled train would allow commuters to make more informed choices.

The ability to look at historical data is important, but it is not as useful as it could be. Users of the website should be able to create graphs comparing performance across a time range instead of having to specifically check the data for each day. This allows users to understand the trends that are driving their commuting experience without tinkering on Excel for hours.

Finally, it’s important to maintain confidence in the accuracy of this data. The website claims that it posts only unadjusted performance data, meaning that it counts delays which were beyond the control of the system operator (such as an Amtrak delay which results in commuter rail delays). The old reports made this claim as well, and yet data from the same day on the two reports are inconsistent.

For example, the website claims that the Rockport commuter rail line operated 100 percent on-time on March 20th, while the old report claims it was only 64 percent. Similarly, the Franklin line is listed as both 67 percent and 100 percent on-time, and the Middleborough line’s performance is recorded at 88 percent and 100 percent on the different reports.

[Pioneer Institute has] reached out to the T for an explanation of these apparent inconsistencies.

Regardless of any drawbacks apparent on the new website, this is a giant step in the right direction for the MBTA. The new dashboard is extremely user friendly, contains more data more quickly than the old reports, and it seems primed for further improvements. Such a tool, if properly advertised and maintained, will boost rider confidence in the embattled authority and help to repair customer relationships that were devastated by last winter.

MBTA Transparency Is Now Back on Track was written by Scott Haller and originally published by the Pioneer Institute on March 29, 2016. Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

Scott Haller is a Research Assistant at the Pioneer Institute and is focusing primarily on transportation.

 


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