New transit solutions:
Rapid Ride and City-Go-Round

December 17th, 2009  |  Published in Eric Kocaja posts, Transportation  |  1524 Comments

“Are you early or are you late?”   

Seattle Buses, 5th & Olive WyThis is my favorite quote from a fellow bus rider. The humor, of course, comes from the notion that it would be absurd for any bus to be simply “on time.” For some time now, I’ve been looking for an easier and quicker way to minimize my time either waiting at bus stops or running to catch early departures.

One solution for Seattleites is just around the corner: King County will be establishing its first Rapid Ride bus service in 2010. Rapid Ride will bring frequent, 24-hour service through major transportation corridors. A bus will arrive every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes in the off peak. More importantly, there will be electronic signs at the stations which will provide real-time information about when the next bus will arrive. While this doesn’t qualify as a ground-breaking idea, it is long overdue and will be much appreciated by Metro riders lucky enough to live or work near a Rapid Ride route.

You don’t have to be a Seattleite to find real-time transit information City-Go-Roundthough. For you smart phone users, Front Seat just announced the launch of their website City-Go-Round (CGR) where “visitors can find public transit applications (apps) available in their city.” 

 CGR looks to be a one-stop-shop that lists all the resources available to help you get where you need to go—with minimal waiting. My two favorites, One Bus Away and Busview, are listed there along with a few others that I’m excited to test. But that’s not all—Front Seat is going one step further by petitioning transit agencies to make their data publicly available so software developers everywhere will be able to generate apps for all cities. 

The best part of CGR is that it provides ample information that I can view from the comfort of my office chair while I contemplate sending off a few more emails. Then again, what makes CGR’s information so great is unfortunately also its downside. Specifically, it is a requirement to have an iPhone, BlackBerry, or comfy-office chair in order to efficiently access these scheduling tools. While we indeed live in a tech-savvy world, we have a long way to go before everyone is checking the bus schedule on their mobile device.

It is the responsibility of each transit authority and of government to provide user-friendly, multi-lingual, real-time information at most points of transit contact. In order to increase ridership, everyone must have access to the highest quality information—not just those with a swank new phone. CGR is helping to push the envelope by advocating for open source transit data so that creative developers can dream up apps for other major cities.

Right now, these services are coming to life with no cost to the agencies. But until all 655 remaining closed agencies—including New York City—share their data, apps like Seattle’s popular Busview unfortunately won’t be able to make their debut in the Big Apple anytime soon. Although, with new cities joining nearly daily who knows? The most recent addition was Chicago on December 13th.

Perhaps with more citizens signing the CGR petition (I just did), we can look for incremental change via enhanced technologies and quick adoption by transit agencies worldwide. If nothing else, CGR’s request pushes us to think about the positive, powerful implications of open data in cities that could harness the creativity of their citizens to do great things—like making catching a bus or train the easiest part of your day.

Eric Kocaja is Mission: Sustainable‘s transportation consultant. He also currently works with Zipcar.

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oran Viriyincy / CC BY 2.0]

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