Saturday, December 30, 2006

Transit Trip Planner

York Region Transit has been promising since their October 2006 newsletter to create an online trip planner for people wishing to plan out a route from point "A" to point "B". The fare increase coming in January 2007, which according to media reports will raise an additional two million dollars for YRT, will also provide funding for new technologies including the online trip planner. Now, as a YRT transit rider, I wait for this come to fruition.

Toronto also has one in the works as well. However, I would think the Toronto one might even happen before the York Region transit one due to the fact the TTC (Toronto's transit agency) is attempting to team up with techno geeks at Google to accomplish this. Google already has the experience in this trip planning with trip planners already created for U.S. cities like Burbank and Tampa. So the technological expertise of Google is already there and all that is really needed is for the TTC to turn over the needed maps and schedules to Google. Once Google acquires these necessary items, the techno geeks can start working on creating the interface.

Why will the Toronto one happen before the York Region one? Knowing the bureaucrats running York Region Transit, they will try and do it themselves instead of handing it over to a company like Google to do it for free. A company like Google, who already has experience in doing this, would have completed this task probably as little as three months. But of course, for York Region Transit, this would make too much sense and thus would not be possible to do. Thus, I don't the promised York Region's transit planner until at least six months to a year from now.

Are there other cities in this world that have great transit planning technologies?

New York City currently has four transit planner

SUBWAYblogger takes a look at the four of transit planners that New York City has complete with links to the planning websites themselves. I've used Hopstop.com while during my time in New York City and found it to be pretty reliable and convenient to use.

What would York Region and Toronto need to include in their trip planning systems?

Here is a list of needed features the trip planners would require:

1. A clean and easy to read map in order to clearly show the directions visually to the user. Hence why Google would be a good company to do a transit planner considering they have the Google Maps technology already in existence.

2. Integrate the system maps and schedules of TTC, GO Transit, YRT, Missisauga Transit, Brampton Transit and Durham Transit. This is to ensure a full Greater Toronto Area transit systems are available to transit riders. Currently it takes flipping between websites, schedules and maps of at least two transit agencies to complete an inter regional transit trip. This only leads to frustration. With all of these transit agencies in one easy to use trip planning system, it will be easier to use transit across borders (e.g. Mississauga to Toronto, etc.).

3. Clearly worded instructions on directions of where to go. Basically clear instructions on how to get from point "A" to point "B" which means the instructions need to include what station or intersection to transfer at and what route (and direction!) one needs to get on. Also, these instructions need to include what time the connecting bus is expected to arrive at the stop.

4. Indicate the fares required to complete the trip. If one is crossing from Toronto into York Region, a rider needs to currently pay two fares in order to ride the TTC and York Region. These fares need to be clearly listed of how much each fare will be for the individual transit agency (e.g. YRT $2.75 TTC $2.75 for a total of $5.50).

5. The route taken needs to have the shortest travel time possible. With the schedules included in the trip planner, connection times between buses can be optimized for riders. There is nothing more frustrating than to realize that you have to wait half an hour for a a connecting bus to arrive. Hopefully, the mapping system can avoid this and suggest another route that may take longer distance wise, but at least the overall travel time is shorter.

6. Take a look at the New York City's and other versions of trip planners. Why should Toronto and York Region "re-invent the wheel" when ideas have already been thought of and implemented? The inventors of the planners should take a look at hopstop.com's options of walking routes, less connections, etc. These options will further assist the transit planner technology to be even more useful to people.

7. Use of GPS technology should be . GPS units on transit vehicles will provide real time arrival times (i.e. is the bus going to arrive on time?) and assist planning an appropriate route. For people with PDAs (i.e. Blackberries) the trip planner could quickly re-map the route one is taking in case unexpected problems (i.e. accident or heavy traffic) occur.

These are just some of the possible suggestions that York Region Transit and Toronto should investigate for their respective online trip planning gizmos. Their own transit planning gizmos? Why can't the transit agencies of the Greater Toronto Area get to together and provide Google with the required information to do an excellent online transit planner? Because that would be thinking and, as we all know, bureaucracies would never do that!

Footnote: Google explains how the Google Transit Planner came about here on the Googleblog.

3 comments:

  1. Michael,

    Have U tried www.publicroutes.com, they have larger coverage area than Google Transit or anyone out there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just tried publicroutes.com Impressive website, but where are the schedules or maps for CANADIAN cities? I click on "North America" and all I get is "USA" routes. There is more to North America than the United States. ARGH!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just a heads up in case you weren't aware. YRT routing has been available on google maps for over a year now!

    ReplyDelete

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