Kaid Benfield Archive


Real-time transit info comes to a smart phone near you

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 11, 2009 at 3:00PM

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Front Seat, the software company that has given us the amazingly useful and fun Walk Score, is at it again.  Not long ago, they added transit data to their Walk Score base.  Mass Transit guides you where you need to go (courtesy of Front Seat)And now they have launched City-Go-Round, a searchable directory of some sixty (and, they say, more coming) applications to aid transit riders in cities across the country.  The service has been developed with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

According to Front Seat’s press release, the apps include real-time arrival information (e.g. when will my bus arrive?), augmented-reality maps of public transit systems, portable schedules and maps, and apps to help you shave time off of your public transit trip.  They have been developed by a variety of companies, and City-Go-Round lists them here.  From City-Go-Round’s web site:

“Our mission is to help make public transit more convenient. For example, an app that lets you know when your bus will arrive is way better than standing outside waiting for 20 minutes.

“If we can make public transit more convenient, more people will ride public transit. More people riding public transit equals less driving. Less driving equals a healthier planet.”

For example, Mass Transit by Sparkfish Creative serves up most everything you would want to know about Boston’s transit routes and schedules, including the location of the nearest stop.  If you have Acrossair, which works in Madrid and Paris as well as several US cities, you can hold the phone’s video screen flat and simply follow the arrows to the station you want, Acrossair points the way (courtesy of Front Seat)as well as view distance information and other stations that come on screen if the phone is tilted various ways.  ExitStrategyNYC, by Jonathan and Ashley Wegener, will actually tell you where to stand on the subway platform so that you are directly in front of your desired exit at your destination.  

Portland’s TriMet is one of the transit providers that have made their data available to programmers.  Here’s Tim McHugh, Chief Technology Officer for the agency: "TriMet has been exposing our transit data to the public since 2005. There are dozens of innovative applications that have been built by developers using this data, and ultimately these apps improve the customer experience and increase transit ridership."

The list of transit agencies with service-related applications so far is an impressive 89 strong, sprinkled around the country.  Front Seat’s web site and press release leave little doubt, however, that the company is frustrated that most providers have not yet made their real-time data publicly available for this sort of use.  They not only salute those who do open up their data, but call out by name those who do not.  (New York City’s MTA is the largest of those listed in the latter category, though several of the apps listed on the City-Go-Round site use basic MTA route and schedule information.) 

The site also lists apps intended to assist walkers and cyclists.  May the data grow and the apps and locations multiply.