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Transportation

What I Learned Riding One of Those New Private City Buses

Bridj won't compete with Boston public transit, but it could get some commuters of out their cars.
A Bridj luxury van parked at its destination in Kendall Square, Cambridge.
A Bridj luxury van parked at its destination in Kendall Square, Cambridge.Keith Barry

Judging by the media coverage, Bridj looks like the biggest thing to happen in Boston public transit since Rosie Ruiz rode the Green Line to win the 1980 Marathon. The Cambridge-based startup, part of a new field of private buses popping up in major metros, promises to shake up city transit by relying on big data to plan routes and on luxury shuttles to move riders. That buzzword-filled elevator pitch seems tailored to get both investors and car-free Millennials excited about riding the bus.

But much like Ruiz did, the hype seeks a shortcut to the finish line. I first rode Bridj on a quiet Friday morning in July. During my trip, the full-size buses that Bridj used on some of its initial trips had been replaced by black Mercedes Sprinter 15-passenger vans. Though I had a pass guaranteeing me a comfortable leather seat, finding space wouldn't have been a problem: Only two other passengers were on board.