April 15, 2016
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Transparency, Trust and the T: How MBTA's New Dashboard Is Changing Rider Outreach in Boston

BY STEPHANIE POLLACK
Secretary and CEO
Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)

The MBTA—known in the Boston area as the T—recently became linked with two more “Ts” in our great city: transparency and trust, attributes that are the hallmarks of the agency’s new performance dashboard.

The new dashboard tracks and ­publicly reports four key metrics regarding performance of the agency—its four subway lines, including all four branches of the Green Line (the oldest subway line in our system), and all 170 bus routes.

For the first time, T riders—who take a million passenger trips each weekday on our vehicles—can now quickly and easily track reliability, ridership, financials and customer satisfaction of the T for an entire day, during rush hour periods or over time.

As a collaboration between MBTA and MassDOT, the dashboard reflects the same information externally that we use internally to improve our operations and on-time performance. In other words, riders have access to the same data and trends on these four metrics that we have. This commitment to transparency reflects our priorities of making data-driven decisions and of holding ourselves accountable for overall customer satisfaction. And it enables us to take a giant step toward our ultimate goal of making MBTA one of the best transit systems in the country.

Data and More
But the dashboard is only the beginning of this initiative and only part of the T’s new interactive website. [Editor's Note: This link goes to the dashboard.] The site also includes a blog that explains the details and nuances of the data found in the charts, graphs and maps. The blog is edited and produced by MassDOT and the MBTA Office of Performance Management and Innovation (OPMI), and all posts are written by OPMI staff.

One of their primary goals is to provide yet another layer of transparency about the data: Where does the data come from? What does it show us and what can we learn from it? What are its limitations and how can we improve our use of data? What cool or unexpected things are we learning?

For now, we’re updating three metrics—ridership, finance and customer satisfaction—monthly, but our reliability stats report the previous day’s performance. We’re also releasing information to third-party developers who could create apps featuring same-day statistics.


Impact So Far
Two days after launch, the dashboard generated more than 10,800 visits, with 9,875 unique visitors and 13,856 page views. We’re also seeing positive results on social media. Here’s a sampling of responses:

Kudos to @MBTA on the new dashboard. Love the increased transparency. Just one question: where are the trend lines?

@MBTA I love the new performance website. Can I download the data? I don’t want to click each day and write down.

Well this is neat. @MBTA launches new public metric tracking dashboard.

Really excited for innovation out of @MBTA. IT improvements and greater transparency.

Very cool. Check out the @MBTA’s new ‘dashboard,’ and find out just how reliable your train’s been.

This is great and the design is pleasing. ­­@MBTA.

Props on the #BackOnTrack website @mbta! Let’s hope we see improvement on the scores now too.

@MassDOT @MBTA New dashboard should be on front page of #MBTA website! Everybody should know about this new tool!

I think it’s a huge step forward by the @mbta. Much of the graduate work I did around them focused on better communication.


But with any new initiative, the launch is just that—the first step in a journey. In the coming months, the public will see enhancements and additional information, such as spending on capital improvement projects.

We have an obligation to inform the public and to offer a customer-service oriented online experience that helps them plan their daily commute. The dashboard is a promise to keep doing so, a pledge to continual improvement and a plan for achieving both.


“Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
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