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Google Transit 2.0
Jeremy Faludi, 4 Jun 07
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Google Transit was already the best thing that ever happened to online public transit trip planning, and now it's grown to a whole new level. Even better, it's starting to be incorporated into the default Google Maps and Google Earth. The new features and the integration into normal map queries will make public transit more accessible and easier for everyone to understand; and in doing so, it will certainly increase transit ridership and reduce driving.

One of the big barriers to public transit use is the knowledge required to use the system: where to wait, when to wait, where to transfer, how much to pay, etc. Some readers may remember that two years ago we helped cause Google Transit to happen, but it's taken off far beyond what we had suggested, and they keep getting better. What's more, they're doing it at no charge to the transit agencies (a perpetually under-funded sector of local governments). More cities are coming on board, as well; if you live in one of the eleven cities now participating, enjoy! If you live elsewhere, consider writing to your local transit agency and telling them to join the 21st century. (ahem... San Francisco, right in Google's back yard, no excuse... ahem.)

What are these tools? In addition to being able to type in your route and get comprehensive directions (including walking to stations, showing the bus or train route, walking directions between stations, how much it costs, etc.), you can plan trips by departure or arrival time and see when the next couple buses come if you miss the one you're aiming for. Now, if you zoom in enough on any Google map in the right city, all the transit stops appear, with different icons for bus, light rail, etc.; click on a bus stop and up pops a list of the buses or trains that stop there; click on the bus number, and up pops the timetable for the next several buses stopping there.

Here's a summary of the new features, with screenshots, right from the horse's mouth--Thomas Sly, a business development manager on the project. (Note the screenshots are small for bandwidth reasons; for real-size ones, give it a spin yourself on the real site.)


What's New (in no particular order):

Coverage: we now have eleven US agencies participating in Google Transit -- the most recent additions are Reno, NV and San Diego, CA. A few weeks ago we also launched a desktop version of Google Transit in Japan, including all regional and national rail networks, domestic airlines and ferries. See GoogleTransit_Home.jpg

GoogleTransit_Home.jpg

Integration of Transit into Maps: As of today, transit icons on Google Maps are clickable in many locations around the world! Earlier in the year, we added transit icons for subway and light rail stations in major cities, but this release goes a step further and adds bus stop information for the cities we have it for. Icons for agencies that share data with us for Google Transit show additional information (in these cities, we show bus stops on the map tiles, and clicking on an icon shows line and departure information). See GM_SeattleZ1.jpg, GM_SeattleZ2.jpg, GM_SeattleZ3.jpg.

GM_SeattleZ1.jpg
GM_SeattleZ2.jpg
GM_SeattleZ3.jpg

Integration of Transit into Google Earth: Earlier this year we propagated data we receive from agencies participating in Google Transit into the Transportation layer in Google Earth. When an agency provides us with trace information on the paths their vehicles travel (as is the case for Portland's Tri-Met and Seattle's King County Metro) we can paint a map of their system on Google Earth. See GE_Seattle_System.jpg Even without that trace information, we can plot stops on the map. See GE_Seattle_Downtown.jpg

GE_Seattle_System.jpg
GE_Seattle_Downtown.jpg

When transit data is integrated into products like Maps and Earth, it becomes even more valuable. Our hope is that placing transit information in the context of other useful information (like business listings) will inspire people to take public transportation who may have otherwise overlooked it.

Open Source Tools: On Earth Day weekend, we contributed a significant amount of source code in the Python programming language to the GoogleTransitDataFeed open-source project ( http://groups.google.com/group/googletransit/msg/ac1afd47d732884e). We hope this software will be useful to agencies wanting to export their data in Google Transit Feed Spec format, for use with Google Transit or other GTFS-reading applications like TimeTablePublisher ( http://www.timetablepublisher.com/) and Graphserver ( http://graphserver.sourceforge.net/ ). See GTFS_ScheduleViewer.jpg

GTFS_ScheduleViewer.jpg

So there you go, a whole slew of new functionality and better integration, making it easier for users to access public transit, and providing transit agencies with a free tool that's better than anything they could buy. The only other things I can think of to ask for would be a function to check whether the upcoming bus is on time (like NextBus.com or Seattle Metro's Tracker), to have the map show you the route of a bus when you click on the route number in the popup of a default Google Map (this will help introduce users to the routes that go by them), and to have all features work in the Google Maps Mobile. What features would you want? Leave a comment, and if it's a good idea you might see it in a later revision, who knows.

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Comments

Great update, Jer. I think it's very cool -- not only that Google is doing this (which I think will prove to have a greatly beneficial impact), but also the OS/collaborative way they're doing this, which should promote more experimentation and hackery on the parts of others.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 4 Jun 07

You asked what else should these maps offer? This was posted to the Portland, Ore. Bike Transportation Alliance website:

====
Frustrated with yet again trying to use Google Maps and Mapquest to figure out a bike route to someplace I’ve never been, I had a sudden realization–these folks are missing a HUGE business opportunity. One that you can help them recognize.

Think about it: why do online mapping services assume that you’re driving? Why don’t they let you tell them “I want a bike route” or “I want to use transit.”

First and foremost, because we’ve all been conditioned to accept the view that getting around means “in a car” and that all other modes are “alternative” (read: less than). This includes the geeks providing the mapping services.

Second, because bikers have just rolled over yet again, quietly submitting to mapping services that only help drivers, thus helping perpetuate driving and, thus, environmental destruction.

What should an online mapping service provide? Simple–just like today, it should let you select a starting and ending point. Ideally, it should also let you include intermediate waypoints too, because we all like to combine trips, right?

But the hands down winner is the service that, for each leg of your trip, lets you choose your mode of travel and insert restrictions on the kinds of roads. This way, bikers wouldn’t be presented with maps that tell them to use the highways, for example.

So the winning online mapping service would offer you choices of mode like this:

Walking: 1) Walking (shoulders ok) 2) Walking (on streets with sidewalks only) 3) Walking (avoid high speed traffic whenever possible)

Biking: 1) Bike paths whenever possible 2) Avoid high speed traffice whenever possible 3) Bike on bus routes OK

etc.

The point is that the mapping services have spent a gazillion dollars giving us a service that is really only aimed at helping us if we drive.

Now that essentially all of America has been mapped and remapped and digitized, now what’s needed is for the geeks to go back and work with pedestrian and bike advocacy groups to encode data about all those roads for each city and town so that, if you want to walk or bike or use transit, the system only “sees” those roads and transit routes, so it never tells you to take your bike on the Capitol Beltway, for example.

The roads should be scored for safety for biking and walking so that you can adjust the route to suit your preferences (like not riding your bike next to a bunch of 18 wheelers, etc.)

Help me make this happen: Write to your online mapping service or visit the suggestion box links below and tell them you want maps that help you with ALL your methods of getting around, not just driving. Maybe include a link to this post.

Let’s see which mapping service actually cares enough about being green by seeing which one is first to implement a service that works for non-drivers too.

Here is a contact link for Google Maps that I think might work: –though lord knows they don’t make it easy to contact them: glbog@google.com

Mapquest has a reasonably easy-to-find link to their online suggestion box:
http://help.mapquest.com/jive/mqfeedback.jspa

So let’s hit it — so that, by next Earth Day, there’s an online mapping service that tells you how to walk, bike, and use transit to get where you’re going.


Posted by: George Seldes on 4 Jun 07

The London Transport Journey Planner at www.tfl.gov.uk has a lot of these features you're talking about, including bike route planning. The integration with maps isn't as outstanding as with google but considering it was done five years ago it's amazing (I suspect they had to work round map licensing issues as well).

I also remember someone telling me that they employed a variety of people, young, old and mothers with prams, to gather data on walking times between stations. That's how you can set your walking speed in the app.

Hope they update it again now that googke have upped the ante.


Posted by: Mark Wilkin on 5 Jun 07

One simple and highly effective addition the the Google Maps Transit system would be the inclusion of the stop ID numbers. I call Portland's Trimet Transit Tracker multiple times a day to get exact information on when the bus/train/streetcar will be arriving. All you need is the trimet phone number and the stop ID number.

When you plan a trip on TriMet's trip maker it gives you all the stop ID numbers you'll run into on your trip but it doesn't show you a map of the physical locations. To be totally sure of my travel route, I end up using both system. I'd rather do it all on Google's system, especially if they can start saving my popular destinations.


Posted by: Zac Benjamin on 5 Jun 07

San Francisco Muni Transit Infomration and information from other Bay Area transit providers is already available on-line at

www.511.org.

Users can use Google Maps to define the start and end point of their trips.

511 is a MTC Web AND telephone service that consolidates Bay Area transportation information into a one-stop resource. 511 provides up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions, incidents and driving times, schedule, route and fare information for the Bay Area’s public transportation services, instant carpool and vanpool referrals, bicycling information and more. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Posted by: K. Keck on 5 Jun 07

TriMet has a mapping program of its own that will give you pop-ups showing Stop IDs. But moreover, in their trip planner results you should be able to click on the stops it gives and get to the map with the stop highlighted (as well as whether the stop has a shelter, pavement crosswalk, etc.


Posted by: Jason McHuff on 5 Jun 07



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