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Boston’s mass transit system is broke and broken. Should tech companies help fix it?

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Should Boston-area companies help foot the bill for the better mass transit service they need to attract and hold onto young employees? A Boston Globe columnist on Friday said yes, and cited New Balance’s funding (to the tune of $14 million to $16 million) of a brand new commuter rail station near its Allston headquarters, a few miles west of downtown Boston.

And the two candidates fighting to succeed Boston Mayor Thomas Menino likewise see private partnerships as critical to improving the cash-strapped MBTA.

Tech startups, in particular, employ lots of young people, many of whom choose to live without cars. And for those companies, the current state of mass transit in Boston/Cambridge leaves a lot to be desired. The Green Line is the oldest subway line in the country and often looks, operates (and smells) like it.

Michael Simon, CEO of LogMeIn, (s logm) which last year moved from suburban Woburn into the South Boston innovation district, would be amenable to helping improve mass transit.

“The intellectual firepower of our employees is the fuel for our success [so] we would take a serious look at anything that would make it easier for the best employees in the region to work for LogMeIn,” said Simon.

Yesware, which is located in Boston’s Downtown Crossing because it is close to three MBTA (“T”) lines plus the Mass Pike and Route 93, would definitely love to see better service. The easier it is for people to get to and from work, the happier and more productive they are, said founder and CEO Matthew Bellows, via email.

In particular, Bellows would like to see the planned Green Line extension from Cambridge into Union Square, Somerville, get completed since many employees live in that area. “If we could subsidize that work to make it happen faster, we would do that. If we could gain exposure to prospective employees traveling the same route all the better,” he said via email.

Jim O’Neill, CIO of Hubspot in Cambridge, Mass., would likewise support mass transit at least in terms of providing expertise. “Tech companies could help make the T more operationally efficient,” he said. As an example of past public-private partnerships, he cited the T app that outside developers built once they had access to the T’s scheduling data.

One nagging issue with the MBTA is that it shuts down relatively early — last runs range from 12:15 a.m. till 1 a.m. depending on line and night. That’s a problem for night-owl techies who come in late, work late, and then want to go out. Local VCs have proposed expanded hours of T service as a priority.

Hubspot, for now, will provide Uber cars to late workers if safety is an issue but O’Neill acknowledges that this is expensive and may not be sustainable longer term.


Green Line photo courtesy of Flickr user Mulad

2 Responses to “Boston’s mass transit system is broke and broken. Should tech companies help fix it?”

  1. Closing bars at a certain time is a very odd american thing. There is no point in doing so at all , some bars would be open 24/7 but not many because they would not have clients.
    As for public transport at night , the easy way is to have fewer,longer routes at longer intervals of time at night.

    Anyway, public transport vehicles should have GPS trackers (no idea if they do in Boston or elsewhere) and the data available to apps. It’s easier to manage the fleet and to offer better ETAs to the users. Beyond that maybe some sensors to measure the load ,again to help manage the fleet.

    Then there is the matter of price , it’s not unprecedented for public transport to be cheap or even free. If it helps the economic development of the city , lower traffic, air and noise pollution, it’s not a terrible idea to heavily subsidize it. Maybe at least some businesses would agree to a public transport tax – maybe those businesses should make a lobbying group advocating for such a tax.

  2. Rather than breaking their heads on a 200 year old unviable technology, the tech companies should find a new technology for moving people that are cheaper, faster and better.

    I will lend them some help: check out SkyTran PRT at NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. The tech is not just cheaper and more viable financially, it offers a much better and faster way for moving people. It implements the so called physical internet as it moves people in small packets just as internet moves data efficiently in small packets.