Big data has already changed how we interact with many aspects of our cities, as well as how cities deliver services and enforce regulations. In New York, for example, the city has had success using public data to find restaurants illegally disposing grease waste, and stores selling untaxed cigarettes. In the realm of public transit, agencies have been able to make their data easily accessible online for app developers, adding value to the commuter.
Matt George, the founder of the Massachusetts-based startup Bridj, is looking to apply the potential for big data to transit. The service, which launched last month with three bus routes in Boston, takes the self-reported home and workplace data of each of its subscribers, as well as data from other sources, including census data and municipal data, and plots out potential bus routes accordingly. While the service is still in its infancy, there are plans for more dynamic routing in the future, such as routes to special events in areas not normally served by public transit. These more direct routes are capable of significantly reducing commute times over public transit.
Aside from the innovative, purportedly faster routing, Bridj is one of a number of transit startups — perhaps most controversially symbolized by ridesharing service Uber — that aims to provide a luxury experience, complete with wi-fi enabled busses with plush seats. There is a price to that: the cost of a ride on Bridj ranges from $5 to $8, over double the fare range of Boston’s public bus operator. Though, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Bridj buses are faster than standard transit.
With many of these services, there have been fears in some quarters of a “two-tier” transit system — one of luxury for the technologically savvy elite, another, underinvested public system for the poor. Bridj has not faced these complaints yet, but it is an issue that may arise as the service expands elsewhere.
Another area that has bedeviled transit startups has not yet been an issue for Bridj -- According to founder Matt George: “One thing we thought would be a bigger challenge would be municipal cooperation.”
However, at least in Massachusetts, there has been a relatively welcoming response from local governments.
We all know people have signed up for insurance through the healthcare exchanges, or enrolled in Medicaid.
But a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine shows about five million people bought coverage straight from an insurance company.
There’s nothing new about people buying insurance policies directly from insurers; it’s been happening forever.
But Harvard’s Ben Sommers says not for everybody.
“It’s a good market if you’re healthy, but if you have pre-existing conditions, you either faced really high premiums or were denied coverage,” he says.
The Affordable Care Act blocks insurers from doing that anymore. Plus, the ACA requires most everyone to have insurance.
Because of all that, Sommers estimates 20 percent of the people who bought directly from companies are newly insured.
It could be the start of a dominant trend.
“As the marketplace matures, it will be folks with higher incomes that won’t be subsidy eligible that will be buying insurance in the future,” says Paula Sunshine with Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia.
She says her company has invested heavily to make it as easy as possible for consumers to buy policies.
Ultimately, Sunshine says her industry will grow as employers stop buying coverage for their workers, and workers start shopping for their own insurance.
Senior Shiite Muslim clerics usually stay out of politics. But they've broken with tradition and issued a call to arms. Shiites are now volunteering — and dying — in the fight against Sunni Muslims.
The Shiite Muslim clerics usually stay out of politics. But they've broken with tradition and issued a call to arms. Shiites are now volunteering — and dying — in the fight against Sunni Muslims.
My family likes to tell stories. Sometimes they get changed and exaggerated in the retelling: Dad got chased by a grizzly. No, it was two grizzlies. It was two grizzlies and he was on a horse. Wasn't it?
But one story I know to be true, at least in its simplest form: My dad used to hop trains out west.
I remember him telling me how dangerous it was. Sometimes the train would stop where you wanted to get off, sometimes it wouldn't. You had to hit the ground running as fast as you could just to stay on your feet and avoid falling into the tracks and under the wheels.
My family is from Colorado, and this is the type of story that reminds me of our roots.
That's why when I heard about Ted and Asa Conover's story, I had to talk to them. This father and son duo is from New York City, but they've both caught the train-hopping bug --Ted first, then Asa -- and went on an adventure together to do it.
I can vaguely remember adventures like that with my own father. Not as dangerous or as illegal, but walking the line. Linking arms so we could pull something out of the rubble at the town dump because it wasn't trash. Hopping a fence here or there. As a kid you have to learn boundaries by pushing against them, and if you're lucky you have a guardian who helps you learn how to do that and survive it.
The interesting thing about this week's conversation with the Conovers is that technology has changed the game of train-hopping. It used to be an oral tradition of sorts -- knowing the right moves and knowing when and where a train might stop. Heck, at any given time you could be riding a train and have no real idea how far you'd traveled or how close you were to your destination. But now there are smart phones and PDF documents shared among the hoppers that detail the gathered knowledge of this illegal pastime. There's even a rumor -- almost a tech ghost story -- about a special infrared scanner that law enforcement uses to catch people train-hopping near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Ted Conover was saying that no matter how tech has changed the process, your success still depends completely on your own ingenuity. I thought that sounded like hacking, and he agreed.
We all see our world change as we get older, and we lament the change. School shootings make for exhaustive visitation rules. More lawyers make for neighbors who don't invite you to use their pool on a hot day. Smart phones make for staring at screens instead of interacting with and meeting strangers. In the case of train-hopping, technology seems to hinder and help; depending on how you define "bad" and "good," it's got a bit of both.
Yeah, I know hopping trains is illegal and dangerous, and I'm not trying to encourage others to do it. In fact I would discourage people from doing it (for the record, Ted Conover probably would too). But that doesn't mean it's a story we shouldn't tell. It's part of my own family history -- part that's always made me proud to have a connection to the west. Like riding horses or knowing how to start a fire in the snowpack, there's something about train-hopping that makes me feel proud of the people and place where I come from. This July 4th week, that feels just about right.