Hubway Has Saved Commuters 45,218 Hours Since Its Launch

Or so says the winner of their data visualization challenge, anyway.

A few months ago, Boston’s bike share service Hubway released tons of data about the individual trips its users have taken since its launch and asked the crowd to create cool ways to visualize the information. The judges announced the results Tuesday, and the overall winner of the Hubway Data Visualization Challenge is Virot “Ta” Chiraphadhanakul, a PhD candidate at MIT who studies transit issues.

Chiraphadhanakul compared the duration of trips in Hubway’s data to the projected commuting time those same trips would have taken using MBTA to calculate the time savings. He plotted those trips on a chart that measures how much time a specific Hubway trip from one station to another saves on the x-axis and how often people take that particular trip on the y-axis. (More popular trips are also represented by bigger dots.)

His charts are quite interactive and offer a lot that we can’t depict well with a simple screenshot, so we definitely encourage you to play around with his visual representation of that data on his site. (And check out the other category winners, too.) Meanwhile, we caught up with him by phone Wednesday to ask him more about his project and its findings:

What were the basic questions you set out to answer with this visualization?

The basic question is how Hubway can help MBTA services. This is actually part of my dissertation at MIT that I’m working on, on transportation, so I know that public transit, the MBTA, cannot provide efficient service everywhere. Hubway can compliment the system. Some of the short trips that require you to wait for a long time at a bus stop, now you can hop on a bike. People can now access their transit hubs much faster.

So you’re looking at how Hubway compliments the MBTA?

Yes, my submission tries to quantify that by summing up the total time savings that Hubway has provided.

Okay, so adding up all the trips contained in the data and comparing them to the length of time they would have taken on public transit, how much time have we saved because of Hubway since its launch in July 2011?

We’ve saved 45,218 hours, as of September 2012.

Was that more or less than you were expecting?

I would say more than I expected, actually. You can see from the plot that most of the popular trips are those that provide travel time savings. So basically people use Hubway to save time. It’s not just that they want to bike. [ER: On the chart above, we emboldened the black line he drew that divides trips that save time (to the right) with trips that cost the rider time (to the left). As you can see, the great bulk of trips fall to the right of the line.]

Yeah, what I like is that you make the wisdom of crowds really visually apparent here. The routes that save people time versus taking MBTA appear far more popular than those that cost people time.


Was there anything that really surprised you in the data?

It was that. That people actually use Hubway to save their travel time. At first I thought it was just for people who want to bike instead of taking buses, but it is really about saving travel time. For example, it saves a lot of time from MIT to the Back Bay station, which is a big station for commuter rails. You would usually have to take two buses. Sometimes traffic is bad. And if you miss your commuter rail, you have to wait another hour. So the bike can provide travel time savings, travel time reliability, and all that.

Did the visualization make apparent any glaringly obvious ways that Hubway needs to improve its service?

I think they have already been doing a great job, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’m actually trying to work on that now, finding where they can put stations so that people in that area can now connect to the MBTA network better.

Are you a Hubway user yourself?

No, because I have my own bike. Now I will be, because I got a free membership.

So you probably weren’t in it for the money?

No it was just for fun. Also, I got a big poster on my wall. (Hubway also gave winners maps of the original Hubway stations.)

[We condensed and edited the interview a bit.]