Friday, March 19, 2010

High-Tech Dreams Meet Budget Reality

The creation of this blog was included in the Social and Electronic Communication Plan developed by Community Transit staff last year. So was a mobile-friendly website and the sharing of our schedule information with Google for use in the private company’s Google Transit tool (we’d also make that schedule data available to the public and other programmers).

Unfortunately, it takes both staff and financial resources to turn high-tech dreams into reality, and both are in limited supply right now. Due to budget cuts and a hiring freeze, our IT department has 18 percent fewer staff positions now than a year ago. That played heavily into the elements and timeline approved in our final electronic communication plan: low-tech blog now, mobile web and Google Transit later.

But all is not lost. Many agencies that use Google Transit don’t have their own trip planners. We do. The Trip Planner on our website is a valuable tool that has many of the same features as Google Transit - and some additional ones that we customize. Our regional Trip Planner incorporates King County Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit, Everett Transit, state ferry and Pierce Transit information all in one place (only two of those partners are now on Google).

By having our own Trip Planner, we are able to highlight related rider alerts, include fare information and link to route schedules. We update landmark names, include holiday schedules and provide a one-stop-shop of transit info. We plan to make several small but significant improvements to the Trip Planner functionality this year, and your suggestions are welcome.

We do recognize the value of Google Transit and we want to be there. Exporting our data to Google will be much simpler once we get a scheduling software upgrade, which has been planned but delayed by resource issues for the past two years. Also, for all of you would-be developers out there, it’s the standardized Google Transit data that agencies have shared to give everyone a chance at making the next great transit app. Until we have our data cleaned up, we can’t help you help us.

By scaling back our expectations, we hope to launch a scaled-back mobile website – offering the Trip Planner, Next Bus (based on schedule) and Rider Alerts later this year. Even such a fairly straight-forward mobile website needs to work on a variety of mobile devices (iPhone, Blackberry, Samsung?) which requires a fairly substantial programming and testing effort. Redesigning our large schedule tables to display on a mobile is beyond the scope of what we can do at this time.

We are moving forward with our Transit Technology project that will include real-time bus schedule information for online and mobile users. Again, because it’s a complex project and we don’t have excess resources to throw at it, the timeline for completion has been pushed to 2011.


  1. My Main issue with trip planners is that they almost never render usably on a mobile phone browser. Google maps on the otherhand, just works.

  2. I'd be interested to have you check our Trip Planner on your mobile phone - although our website itself is too full of rich content to display well, if you work through to the Trip Planner, it seems to display results just fine in mobile format. Thus, a current achievable goal is a mobile website that cuts through the graphics/content and gets directly to the Trip Planner. Let me know what you think (and what devise you use).

  3. But "One Bus Away" already knows where I am, what my preferred routes are, etc. Have you thought about just making your existing data available for download? I'm sure, if asked, someone would volunteer to make an application to translate it to the standard format for you.