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Local transit agencies now work in Google Transit, plan data warehouse promising interesting apps to come

Google knows just about everything about your life -- more than you might want it to know, maybe. But until very recently, it didn't know a darned thing about transit options in the Triangle.

The Google Transit system relies on mass transit providers to provide data on scheduled routes in a useful fashion, at which time they can be used to provide a route plan akin to their automobile and pedestrian plans via Google Maps.

Last time I was in Charlotte, it was handy getting an integrated view of bus and light rail schedules to get around town, especially when planning a late-night trip that can be worrying without good data.

Now the Triangle is getting that kind of transit planning service -- and with it comes a data warehouse announcement that portends well for innovative smartphone and web apps to come.

Durham's DATA system is now part of the Google Transit database, as is Triangle Transit, Chapel Hill Transit, Raleigh's CAT system, and numerous other local systems, though not Duke's campus bus system.

According to a press release from Triangle Transit:

With Google Transit, Triangle visitors and regular transit users can now plan their trips using familiar technology while on the go with Google mobile apps, allowing for searches on smart phones such as the iPhone and Droid.  By utilizing Google search, riders have more options for starting and destination points, making for a smoother trip planning experience and easier integration into a transit-oriented lifestyle.

Better still comes word that the agency will this month release data files that conform to GTFS, a shared format for transit system data that's the lingua franca for third party developers who want to build smartphone apps and other third party tools that can use transit data.

The recent announcement only covers scheduled transit service, which is great if everything's on time but doesn't help if buses are running off schedule. Last week Durham-based Digital Recorders Inc. was announced as the winning provider for automated vehicle locator (AVL) systems that use GPS-style technology to report back the exact location of buses at any given time.

Triangle Transit officials told BCR in the fall that their contract with DRI for real-time arrival systems included a provision that would allow for such data to be shared.

"The contract includes a section mandating that the real-time location and arrival prediction data from the system be available to be used via an open data feed," TT's John Tallmadge said in response to an email query from BCR and a similar query from the Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg.

Tallmadge added that such data would be made available in an online data warehouse to give full visibility not only to schedules and routes -- as in the first-phase connectivity with Google Transit and presumably the standards-based scheduling data being released -- but to real-time availability, too.

"We are currently reviewing bids for the creation of an online regional data warehouse.  This data warehouse will be housed on the web site," Tallmadge told BCR. "Once in place, local developers will be able to access this site to download open bus route, schedule, bus stop, and AVL feed data to use in creating their own applications," which could include web tools as well as apps for smartphones.

So the news on Google Transit? Very good -- but get ready for even better coming soon.


Michael Bacon

Oh, thank heavens! Chapel Hill's system is pretty good, providing approximate arrival times at various stops, but live GPS data in a Google Maps interface would be phenomenal.


Now, if we could only get Google Maps to accept the city's submission of updated bike/ped map data. Dale McKeel and a couple of colleagues from the Transportation Dept prepared the GIS map data that was used for the Durham Bike & Hike Map and tried to submit it to Google Maps a couple months ago, and were told that they were not accepting data uploads at this time...

But wouldn't it make sense to combine the latest bike routing information with transit information?


Still some bugs in this. Ask for directions from downtown Durham to Chapel Hill and it sends you on a short cut through the lobby of El Centro Hispano.

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