A little over a year ago, Google established a common format for public transportation data called GTFS or General Transit Feed Specification. GTFS feeds allow public transit agencies to publish their transit data and developers to write applications that consume that data in an interoperable way (source: https://developers.google.com/transit/gtfs/). The adoption of the specification has been fairly widespread in a relatively short period of time. As of this writing, there were over 400 GTFS datasets from various transit authorities all over the world – most of them in the United States.
However, many of these transit authorities have not yet published their own data for public consumption via their websites and\or mobile applications. In my opinion, this is a wasted opportunity to improve a product that needs improving – public transportation. One such example is from our hometown, Columbus Ohio. The Central Ohio Transit Authority does have a website, but the route maps are all in PDF format and they aren’t easy to read. They do provide access to a Google widget that can help route your trip by displaying the results on a Google map, but there is no comprehensive system map on the site to see ALL of the stops and routes.
For fun, we here at Urban Decision Group decided to build such a map by using the GTFS data as input. This is relatively easy to do if you have the right tools, which we do. After downloading the data and using ESRI’s ArcGIS to convert the data into GIS shapefiles, we were able to create this map application. It’s nothing fancy…pretty much a straight conversion of the data with a little housekeeping to make the info windows readable. It probably took a total of 30 minutes from download to completion. The point is,…if it’s this easy to build a very basic application, then why aren’t more transit authorities doing it? I must add, I am aware that COTA is planning on giving their site a makeover and quite possibly adding this type of functionality is part of the face-lift (attention COTA, could we also get updates via Twitter please?). I’m anxious to see what they come up with.
In the interim, I’m begging the rest of the transit authorities that are stuck in 1998 – please give us a better product to get us on the bus (or train)! This should not be an afterthought – it is indeed a subset of your product offering. If you ran a business that provided transportation services, wouldn’t you put a fair amount of energy into marketing and advertising to ensure you were getting the information out to not just your customers, but your potential customer….and anybody that lives within a metropolitan region IS a potential customer.
I’m not picking on COTA, they just happen to be my transit authority. There are plenty of examples of website fails – too many for me to list. So that’s why I’m asking for your help. If you are aware of a transit authority that is falling short in the web and mobile department, then let us know via the “comments” section of this post. Let’s start a discussion and maybe we can use a little peer pressure to spur some change.