Test ride: Hopping Bridj from Brookline to Cambridge

Bridj's bus stop in Brookline's Coolidge Corner.
Bridj's bus stop in Brookline's Coolidge Corner.

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t review the dress rehearsal of a play, or the friends-and-family night of a restaurant about to open. And that’s what today was for Bridj, the private bus service. The company is operating test routes this month from Brookline to Boston’s Financial District and Kendall Square, Cambridge, with passengers riding free. If it was a disaster, I wasn’t planning to post anything. But my trip went swimmingly — except for the journalists prowling the aisle trying to interview everyone, shooting video, and snapping pics. (I wasn’t among them…)

matthewgeorgeI’d signed up for the route from Brookline’s Coolidge Corner to Kendall, and I arrived at a parking lot behind the Coolidge Corner Theatre at around 8:15 AM. Several company employees were standing next to a full-size coach operated by Academy Bus. Chief operating officer Desmond Pieri told me that two buses had already left on time for the Financial District — leaving one passenger behind who was hoping that they’d be just a smidge late. Founder Matthew George, right, was there too, and he said there had been such strong response to Bridj that they’re considering adding a route to Back Bay soon.

An employee checked me in on a passenger list, and I hopped on board. There were bottles of sparkling water on each seat, and a goodie bag containing items like lip balm, hand sanitizer, and ear plugs. We departed exactly at the scheduled time: 8:25.

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The wifi on board was pokey — I didn’t test the speed, but I’d call it “slower than Amtrak,” which is already pretty slow.

The bus zipped through the back streets of Brookline to Comm. Ave., crossed the Boston University bridge, and then cut through the MIT campus via Vassar Street to Kendall. I wasn’t exactly sure where the drop-off would be, but the bus parked right next to the Watermark East apartment building on Kendall Street, near Genzyme’s headquarters. The scheduled arrival time was 8:50, but the door opened at 8:44.

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Not bad for a trip that would ordinarily take about 40 minutes on the T, via Harvard Square or Park Street. (Those routes require either a bus-to-train transfer, or a train-to-train transfer.) But Bridj did pick a good time of year to start its test runs — the roads were pretty clear, most of the students have split, and when I sat down for a coffee at Voltage, the place was quieter than I’d ever seen it.

It seems like there’s the potential here for Bridj to fill in routes that aren’t well-served by the MBTA. Could Bridj suck away significant revenue from the MBTA? That remains to be seen. Many of the people who are willing to pay $10-$16 or more for a roundtrip ride to work may very well be people who today drive, take cabs, or use Uber.

Bridj isn’t yet running return trips from downtown or Kendall. The company plans an official launch in about a month. Tickets will cost $5-$8 each way. The Globe covered the service when it was first announced in April, and again last month.

When I returned to Coolidge Corner on the T (Red Line to Park Street, Green Line to Coolidge Corner), it took me twice as long (41 minutes) — but that was a mid-day trip, not during rush hour.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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