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Skate: Mobile Dispatching for Bus Officials

A bus inspector uses Skate, a mobile dispatching app for tablets that we built in-house

Using technology to improve MBTA bus service was one of our top priorities when we started the Better Bus Project. Just as our rider tools are built to benefit the end-user (riders), we wanted to create something focused on our other end users—MBTA bus officials.

Roughly 800 MBTA buses are on the road during peak times, with more than 1200 bus officials working in various roles. In the past, bus inspectors—who work with dispatchers and other MBTA staff to keep bus service running smoothly—would use paper schedules to keep track of everything. This can be time-consuming and not always reliable, so we decided to make a better option.

Building a Better T

As part of our $8 billion, 5-year capital investment plan, we're renovating stations, modernizing fare collection systems, upgrading services for our buses, subways, and ferries, and improving the accessibility of the entire system.

Learn more

How Skate is Helping Us Improve Bus Service

Route ladders in Skate. The buses are depicted as colored triangles—green is on time, blue is early, and red is late. The attached lines show where that bus should be in its schedule.
Route ladders in Skate. The buses are depicted as colored triangles—green is on time, red is early, and blue is late. The attached lines show where that bus should be in its schedule.

In April 2019, we began building Skate, a web-based dispatching tool that bus inspectors can use in the field, on their MBTA-issued tablets. We launched the first version of the app in July, and we’ve been iterating on it ever since.

Since launch, we’ve added features that allow our inspectors to:

  • See “route ladders” of scheduled bus routes with the option to scale up or down depending on how many routes they’re assigned. Each rung of the ladder is a major bus stop, and colored triangles depict where each bus is along that route
  • View detailed information about a bus, such as its bus number and operator, which helps them make adjustments during shift changes or other events that might make a bus run behind schedule
  • Pull up an in-app Google map with driving directions in the event that there’s a disabled bus they need to find and respond to
  • Track shuttle buses when there’s a diversion, which helps clear up some of the confusion that affects riders and operators alike during these service changes
  • Search by bus or operator number to make sure that buses and operators are ready to begin upcoming trips

How Skate Benefits Riders

Skate isn’t just a useful tool for MBTA bus officials—it also benefits our riders. Here’s how:

  • Since inspectors are able to see when buses are running behind or ahead of schedule, they can make adjustments (like dispatching the next bus earlier or later) to compensate for gaps in service.
  • In the future, events like this will get flagged, which will let us adjust the predictions we show to riders and make them more accurate.
  • Being able to track shuttles means bus officials—and thus, operators—are more knowledgeable about the diversion, and they can pass that information onto our riders.

Employee Innovators

Road Control Supervisors Dorsey Dugan and Brian Clifford, who helped design Skate, a mobile dispatching app for bus inspectors

Are you an MBTA employee with an innovative idea? We want to hear from you.

Building a Better T

As part of our $8 billion, 5-year capital investment plan, we're renovating stations, modernizing fare collection systems, upgrading services for our buses, subways, and ferries, and improving the accessibility of the entire system.

Learn more

Employee Innovators

Road Control Supervisors Dorsey Dugan and Brian Clifford, who helped design Skate, a mobile dispatching app for bus inspectors

Are you an MBTA employee with an innovative idea? We want to hear from you.