Connecting Public Transit to the Web

septa-busGoogle Transit revolutionized (for me) the public transit system… kind of. It appears that most of it still basic artificial intelligence algorithms operating on data provided by individual cities and states (and not user-added data a la Wikipedia). The problem is that a lot of data is missing, and also the algorithms often find routes that could be significantly simplified, shortened, and made cheaper by human beings that actually ride these routes on a daily basis. These are the “experts” and Google is not using their nearly infinite knowledge base in this transit planning problem.

For example, I traveled to North Bergen, NJ recently. There are a lot of ways to get there. I ended up going with a trip that cost me $15 as opposed to the $60+ that would result if I followed Google Transit suggestions. It was also faster and involved less transfers than what Google Transit suggested.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see public transit authorities moving more and more to the web, and not just the web of 1990’s but Web 2.0 (as much as I dislike that term).

Specifically, as a Philadelphia resident, it’s nice to see Septa and NJ Transit bring a few features to mobile devices. Specifically, each stop now has a unique id (see Septa and NJ Transit). You can then text this id to the respective website, and get information about the next bus or train arriving at that stop. In some cases you can even track the location of trains and buses.

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