The Codcast: The T’s chief technology officer

Riding the T sometimes feels like a step back in time. Red Line cars that are 40 years old. Payment systems that are slow and inefficient. Underground stations that leak whenever it rains.

But David Block-Schachter, the MBTA’s chief technology officer, says the transit authority is changing. In an interview for The Codcast with Josh Fairchild and James Aloisi of TransitMatters, Block-Schachter, who doesn’t own a car or a driver’s license, provides a glimpse of what technology can do for the T.

His biggest project is called AFC 2.0, which stands for automated fare collection. Instead of just using Charley Cards, passengers will be able to pay fares with phones and contactless credit cards. Cash will be a thing of the past; no more waiting in line as someone tries to feed a dollar bill into a cranky machine. Fare readers will be located at every door on Green Line trolleys so passengers can board more quickly and trains won’t have to idle at station stops.

The new technology will allow the T to better track the movement of its users. Where do they get on? Where do they get off?. What lines are struggling to meet demand? The technology opens up all sorts of possibilities — fares based on distance traveled or time of day and service levels that can be adjusted to meet demand. “Real-time information will allow us to adjust in real time,” he says.

The MBTA is also looking to deploy technology to solve simpler problems. For example, the T can track its buses, but not in real time. Block-Schachter says buses could be equipped with simple GPS devices that would generate data allowing customers to track their bus on their phone the way they track an Uber coming to pick them up. He said the T is also working with a handful of communities on technology that would allow a bus moving down a street to change upcoming traffic signals from red to green.

Block-Schachter, a graduate of MIT who formerly worked at the now-defunct private bus startup Bridj, routinely uses apps and the information they provide to make his commute easier. But he says many riders never bother. So he wants to introduce cheap, simple screens at bus stops that would deliver all sorts of helpful information — when the next bus arrives or what’s the location of the nearest fare vending machine or bike share. He’d also like to see the same information displayed on buses themselves, so passengers would know as their bus approaches a subway stop when the next train arrives and departs.

Block-Schachter is eager to introduce new technology to the T, but only if it improves the ridership experience and makes sense financially. He says the T has no desire to be the guinea pig for high-risk technology experiments. “We don’t want to be the innovator,” he says.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Beacon Hill’s Big Three — Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stanley Rosenbergsign a resolution condemning white nationalism and neo-Nazis. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Felix D. Arroyo, the suspended elected register of the Suffolk County Probate and Family Court, is being allowed to return to work but under conditions he opposes. The US Justice Department is also investigating discrimination at the agency. (Boston Globe)

Selectmen in Hudson, where the ballot question to legalize recreational use of marijuana passed in November, are considering proposing a moratorium on retail pot outlets or rezoning the town to prevent stores from opening near downtown or residential areas. (MetroWest Daily News)

At least a half-dozen Open Meeting violation complaints have been filed against the Stoughton Board of Selectmen, most involving the board’s appointment of an interim town manager. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

At least 14 people were killed and scores injured in Barcelona, Spain, in what police said was an act of terrorism when a van plowed into pedestrians on a sidewalk in a tourist area. (U.S. News & World Report) In a separate action, Spanish police said they thwarted another potential deadly attack when they killed five suspected terrorists in a town about 75 miles west of Barcelona. (New York Times)

President Trump, whose latest tweetstorm revived a debunked story about Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing executing Muslims, is becoming increasingly politically isolated. One GOP lawmaker, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, questioned his “stability” and “competence” to govern. (New York Times)

Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist from Keene, New Hampshire, who appeared in a Vice News documentary on Charlottesville, is wanted on charges in Virginia. (Boston Globe) Boston-area resident Matt Colligan is outed online as one of the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville. (Boston Globe)

The two top officers aboard a US destroyer that collided with a freighter off the coast of Japan in June killing seven sailors have been relieved of duty for “inadequate leadership” that led to one of the Navy’s deadliest crashes in years. (New York Times)

Author Joshua Green says Trump hasn’t delivered on many of his promises, but he has come through on an issue very important to his base — immigration. (Boston Globe) Four Massachusetts state reps say Gov. Charlie Baker is following the Trump playbook on immigration. (CommonWealth)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts cranberry growers supply about a quarter of the nation’s consumption of the tart fruit but this year’s crop is expected to be down about 4 percent, according to projections from the US Department of Agriculture. (Herald News)

State inspectors examined more than 30 rides at the Marshfield Fair to ensure safety after an 18-year-old man was killed in Ohio last month on a ride similar to one at the 150-year-old South Shore festival. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

A private dormitory opens in Lowell. (Lowell Sun)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Publicly traded health insurers, despite anxiety about funding for health care, are doing very well financially. In some cases, they are doing very, very well, says Edward M. Murphy. (CommonWealth)

UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester refused to join a Baker administration effort to change the way care is delivered under MassHealth because it feels the financial risks are too high. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

A new study indicates the cost of a North-South Rail Link is less than previously thought. The study was done by folks at Harvard’s Kennedy School at the request of rail link supporter and Kennedy School alum US Rep. Seth Moulton. (CommonWealth)

Nearly 20 years after officials put a temporary span in place to replace an unsafe aging drawbridge, the new permanent Fore River Bridge at the Quincy-Weymouth line opened to traffic early this morning. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Worcester flips the switch on the largest municipally owned solar farm in New England. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Spree killer Gary Lee Sampson, a drifter convicted of killing two Massachusetts men and a New Hampshire man in 2001, lost his bid to escape the death penalty after a federal judge dismissed defense arguments for a new trial. (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA

John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Globe, gives a major scoop to the Boston Herald, telling the tabloid that he wants the Sox to lead the way in renaming Yawkey Way. Henry said he is still haunted by the racism practiced by former Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who is also known for his philanthropy. (Boston Herald)

In a stunning rebuke to President Trump, James Murdoch, president of 21st Century Fox and son of Trump ally Rupert Murdoch, pledged $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League in response to the president’s equivocal remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. (New York Times)