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Reading for October 16, 2009

  • The Transit Holy Grail: One Bus Away

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    More coverage of OneBusAway.org, the free bus-location service that has radically increased my ridership habits (along with my trusty OrcaCard) >>>

    onebusaway.jpg One of the hardest things about being a regular public transit commuter is the constant sense of helplessness. Sure, you're supporting your community. Occasionally you're involuntarily providing a destitute, possibly drunk man a shoulder to sleep on, you're saving money on gas, and you're helping the environment! But sometimes...you just want to know where your goddamned bus is.

    Brian Ferris, a grad student in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington apparently knows that feeling well. Some time ago he put together onebusaway.org, a site that uses and improves upon real-time bus arrival information provided by MyBus for all King Count Metro routes. The site offers an almost absurd number of possible channels by which to access this information; a phone number to call, a Google Maps mashup website, SMS interface, an iPhone optimized webpage, a text only page for older phones, and now the native iPhone App.

    While all are helpful, the iPhone app seems the most accessible. The default screen is a location-based map with nearby stops highlighted, which can be crucial when you're in a hurry and on the verge of powerwalking. Bookmark your frequently used stops and find out how many minutes you have with 2 taps.

    We certainly commend Seattle Metro for having their own iPhone App. It's a good effort and a step in the right direction, but One Bus Away is better for a number of reasons. For one, their data attempts to incorporate "info for every bus stop, not just a few timepoints". Their search is more robust with options for route, address and stop number, vs. Metro's route and more complicated intersection/location search. More importantly, its simply been more accurate. Also, it's app icon is much cuter.

    Created by a fellow frustrated bus rider, the app is just a portion of a commendable undertaking to improve a lot of people's commutes. They're not joking around about feedback and want to hear from you how to improve the service. And thanks to Nokia Research and a grant from the National Science Foundation, it's free.

    Download now.

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