Our project began as an idea for a tool that would identify and reduce MUNI vehicle bunching – that is, buses and trains that deviate from their schedules due to traffic conditions, passenger loads, or equipment problems. This results in several vehicles arriving at a stop one right after the other, followed by a long period before the next vehicle arrives.

We spent the first night working on this concept. The next morning, we proposed our idea to a line manager as part of the Summer of Smart required field exploration. While she thought our idea was provoking, our helpful MTA employee suggested it’s the coordination of resolutions to trouble issues that is the challenge — bunching is self-evident. Armed with outdated radio technology and trusty clipboards and pencils, getting the vehicle operator, line managers, and operations control managers all on the same page is a daunting undertaking. What MUNI really needed was better communication and a trouble ticket management system.

From this new understanding, our group adjusted course, focusing on vehicle specific and geographically aware messaging to address the failure of communication and SMARTmuni was born. Now issues and their resolutions are identified and prioritized, whether it requires deploying a technician, notifying medical authorities, or re-routing bunched vehicles. Muni will haveĀ  the tools to disseminate the information system-wide – in real time – to the decision makers and affected vehicle operators.

Another MTA employee identified an unexpected benefit to our application. When the new communications equipment is installed in a few years, it will need to “learn” about MUNI’s processes. Data collected via SMARTmuni in the interim will jump-start the database with real solutions, customized for San Francisco’s system.

To broaden the usefulness of the application even further, we are also developing a public-facing database that relies on crowd-sourced data. MUNI riders can text updates regarding their trip and subscribe to updates via their mobile devices.

Implementing these two applications will give MTA staff a tool to efficiently resolve delays and help passengers make choices about their trips. Our transportation network can be SMARTmuni!