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Google Mapping Public Transportation

This article was written by Jeremy Faludi in June 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

google%20map.jpgGoogle 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


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.


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


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 ( 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 ( and Graphserver ( ). See 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 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.

Google Transit 2.0
is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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Google transit is not as good as Hopstop, at least in NYC. I tried GT for the first time today for a trip in NYC and it didn't re-route around a service change. Service changes are frequent on weekends due to maintenance.

It put up a warning from the MTA about the service outage, but still displayed a trip plan that wouldn't work because the train it was telling me to use wasn't running on the weekend.

On the other hand, Hopstop handles service changes very well and re-routes around them.

Posted by: pensivepuppy on 28 Sep 08



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