Monday, July 27, 2009

It actually happened - LA (Metro) is now on Google Transit!

Earlier this month, Metro officially went live on Google Transit. Users can now get driving, walking, and transit directions for trips in the LA area via Google Transit, which is accessible through the Get Directions feature of Google Maps.

Maya Emsden, Metro's Deputy Executive Officer of Creative Services, said that Metro's launch on Google Transit means that users can now access a versatile, multilingual trip planner that integrates the features of Google Maps at a web-based media briefing held yesterday morning

Some of those features include the ability to do searches by business names, to provide street views of bus stops and train stations, and to generate itineraries that are accessible to the visually impaired. (Yes, these are things that the Metro trip planner cannot currently do.)

Ms. Emsden also spoke of how Metro saw its launch on Google Transit as a means to

   1. increase transit awareness
   2. convert potential riders into active riders and
   3. increase off-peak ridership.

Metro, like everyone else it seems, is under pressure to increase its operating revenues. Getting people to ride transit during off-peak hours seems like a no-brainer.

There are still barriers to overcome in increasing ridership, particularly during off-peak hours. With some exceptions (i.e. Wilshire), off-peak buses don’t run very often. I'd be hard-pressed to decide what is worse: getting to the bus stop just to see the bus you needed has pulled away, or not knowing when the next bus is coming.

But what if you could see where the next bus is on a Google Map? Might that change your feelings a tad about riding a bus?

UCSD and the University of Michigan draw on Global Positioning System (GPS) data from their shuttle buses to create what are called mash-ups on a Google Map. For fun, I click on these mash-ups and watch these bus icons move along a Google Map every couple of seconds. Via computer or smart phone, people can find out what time the next bus is coming … or pull up this map, which shows them where the next bus is. And when it’s late at night, you can look at the site to see where the next bus is, and figure out whether you should wait inside a little longer before heading outside to the bus stop.
University of Michigan Mash Up

UCSD mash-up

By providing this information, transit systems can make it feasible for more people to ride, particularly when buses run infrequently.

How far off are we from having these kinds of mash-ups available for Metro buses? And for buses operated by traditional municipal operators? Will there be a time when these agencies will open up NextBus/GPS data in a way that the public can also see the whereabouts of a bus from a computer or a smartphone?

I do think that Metro’s collaboration with Google Maps marks the beginning of something incredibly promising. The discussions with Google led Metro to open its timetable data to everyone at www.developer.metro.net. Perhaps this will lead to innovations such as the iBart application for iPhones.

Furthermore, Metro’s launch on Google Transit also expands the versatility of using Google Transit to plan itineraries that span across agencies and county lines. Locally, these agencies are on Google Transit: Burbank, Irvine, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino County, Foothill Transit, Metrolink and Thousand Oaks.

And finally…

Juan and I would like to thank all of the people who took the time to join the Los Angeles Wants Google Transit Facebook group. They include our friends, our mothers, our colleagues in the transportation field here in LA, and people we don't even know who found the group through Stalker Feed. We hope we didn't pester you too much. But because you joined the group on Facebook, key supporters of Google Transit, such as City Council President Eric Garcetti and Metro board member Richard Katz, were able to demonstrate that there was public support for this kind of public/private collaboration.

2 comments:

JN said...

RTA's Google Transit data has been temporarily pulled, for whatever reason. We had just gotten trip planning from here to the sea working, and now look what happens...

Still glad it's working over there.

Donovan Keith said...

Congratulations! This is something I've wanted for a while, I'm glad to discover someone else wanted it and was willing to put the work in.