GSC group: make ‘high-impact’ Somerville shuttle permanent

New route reaches graduate students living off campus

The Somerville Saferide Shuttle has proven to be a “high-impact line,” according to a report from the Graduate Student Council Transportation Subcommittee, which assessed the Fall 2013 trial program of a new Saferide route in Somerville and East Cambridge.

The Somerville route is the first student-created, data-driven bus service design at MIT, according to Brian L. Spatocco G, the former chair of the subcommittee.

“We developed an algorithm using the graduate students’ residential data and optimized this shuttle route to provide the most services to the people who have the most need,” Spatocco told The Tech. “By saying ‘the most need,’ I mean the thousands of students who live in the area with no alternative public transit or shuttle service available to get from campus in the evenings.”

About two-thirds of graduate students live off campus, many of them in Cambridge, mostly close to the Somerville/Inman Square area, according to graduate student residential address data from the MIT Institutional Research section of the Office of the Provost, Spatacco said.

“We saw where people lived did not correspond to shuttle service plans,” he said. Existing transit options — MBTA, MIT shuttles, EZRide — failed to “hit most of the major ‘heat’ blocks we observed from the data.”

The GSC Transportation Subcommittee tried to tackle this problem in what was perhaps a typical MIT way: they developed an algorithm and wrote a bunch of scripts, seeking to maximize impact — to serve the most people who currently were not served. Then, they presented their solution to MIT and persuaded MIT to run a pilot program.

The Somerville Saferide Shuttle pilot program operated throughout Fall 2013. This program brought a new Saferide route to graduate students living in Somerville and East Cambridge, where neither the MBTA nor MIT Shuttle System services operate on weekdays after 7 p.m. or on weekends.

According to the report, the Somerville Saferide Shuttle pilot program attracted a large ridership — similar to the Boston West and Cambridge East shuttles — and in December it was still increasing, as service improved and awareness spread. The ridership was more evenly distributed along the route than for most other shuttle routes, which suggests most stops were amply used.

The report recommends continuing the Somerville Saferide Shuttle on a permanent basis. The MIT Parking and Transportation Committee will vote on the recommendation at their next meeting.

“We can do data-driven redesigns for all the bus lines.” Spatocco added, “We should treat MIT like a living lab, where students get real hands-on knowledge by doing, not by reading, and make real impact.”

Details of the report can be found at