iPhone Schedule Data, But Not From The TTC (Update 2)

Update 2: The Register has a story about Berlin and the Dutch State Railways where the issue of copyright and use of public schedule data by outside application creators has arisen.

The TTC is not alone in fighting against externally built apps.

Original post follows:

There’s a great post and comment thread by Shawn Micallef on the spacing website about yet another non-TTC application to help users get TTC data.  This time, it’s an iPhone app.

Update:  The Torontoist site also has a post on this (sorry David for not picking up on that earlier).

After the initial burst of launching the still-not-bug-free and incomplete TTC website, work on that site seems to have ground to a halt.  At the very least, the TTC should put up a “coming soon” page with a list of committed improvements and dates.  This would allow people to spot the things that are still missing, and give us all a sense that the project isn’t stillborn.

One excuse is the need to make documents fully accessible.  This places the community who needs such services in the position that they appear to be the problem, rather than the TTC’s own inactivity and lack of preparation for this requirement.

An important issue raised by Shawn (and by others in the past) is the way that the TTC jealously guards its internal data on the grounds that it has some commercial value.

Get off your butts, guys.  This is public information and all your sitting on it does is to prevent people from making good use of the data.  Other cities make this type of scheduling info freely available, but Toronto is too busy protecting its “intellectual property”.

12 thoughts on “iPhone Schedule Data, But Not From The TTC (Update 2)

  1. I am glad the subway/RT map is an interactive map like Montreal has. Hopefully they tweak out the problems so that it is easier to use in the future.


  2. Steve,

    There was an application on facebook called MYBUS, gave you the data from vancouver, toronto and a third city via text messaging (the third city could of been Montreal). I texted a code I set up, for example: 68SF (68 = Warden, S = Southbound, F = Finch), I got the next 3-5 scheduled bus times. The bad thing is that you had to set a code for every stop you wanted.

    I know it is possible to set up something like the timeline phone they had before y2k, where you text a 4 digit number and it will tell you the next few buses.

    Does Giambrone, Mihevc and others expect me to have a laptop so I can go to the schedule at http://www.ttc.ca?

    Let’s say I want to go to the CNE using the 509…I am all the way in Warden/Steeles area, any schedule I check for the 509 will be useless. I would love to check on the schedule on my way there. They have the schedules already, you have the schedules, I have the schedules….. so why can’t they just upload them/input them somewhere in a database that will spit it out via text messaging or throug a call?

    The ultimate geek dream of mine is that all you had to do is tap the phone to the bus stop pole and it gives you the next few stops.

    Steve: Timeline had the same problem with remote access. If you were out in Scarborough, it would tell you times for cars to the CNE now, but not an hour from now, or this evening, or tomorrow.

    There is an unreasonable assumption in some quarters (geeks take note) that everyone has a PDA of some flavour, and this is a replacement for the old-fashioned need to actually print information.


  3. Just want to add my voice to the call for TTC to embrace the large (and eager) open-source community and make their data public. Some sort of informal partnership or licensing scheme would allow TTC to reap the benefits of this, with the customers as the biggest winners.

    I can’t emphasize enough how big a PR boon something like this iPhone app. can be if the TTC were to formally recognise and promote/support it.


  4. I like the basic design of the new TTC website.

    The interactive subway/RT map is not one its stronger features – especially considering the Montreal systems routings and schedules can now be accessed via Google maps.


  5. The next version of iPhone/iPod Touch Software 2.2 will have Public Transit Capabilities. Given the close ties between Apple & Goggle, I presume the public transit software will run on Google Maps and require transit data in a Google format.

    The details, including (Google Map-like) screenshots were released on AppleInsider: “iPhone Software 2.2 to add public transit & walking directions”: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/08/10/25/iphone_software_2_2_to_add_public_transitwalking_directions.html I’d be interested if the walking portion shows Shawn a way around the stream he encountered on the weekend! 😛

    Unfortunately, the TTC is a Blackberry/Windows-only shop (or was the last time I asked TTC CIO in Spring) and all the Senior Execs use Blackberries… so they likely won’t “get” the iPhone’s appeal (despite selling more smartphones than Blackberry (see AppleInsider: Apple iPhone 3G sales surpass RIM’s Blackberry @ http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/08/10/21/apple_iphone_3g_sales_surpass_rims_blackberry.html)

    If there is one saving grace, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone DOES use a Mac at City Hall and DOES get technology (Robert Ouelette’s/Torontoist TTC website challenge and follow-up Transit Camp) was/is pushing TTC Staff hard behind the scenes to implement long overdue website redesign, TTC Trip planner and soon hopefully, real-time, anywhere (AVL) vehicle location~the holy grail of transit information.


  6. I agree on the note about the over-protection of “intellectual property”.

    On the note about how there is an assumption that everyone has a PDA, an example of such an assumption would be YRT’s new “NextBus” feature. (I’m sorry for bringing YRT into almost every comment I post on here, but it just so happens that I can relate a lot of topics back to them).

    They seem to assume that everyone has a PDA of some kind, because you have to email them your bus stop number. Email? Seriously? I already sent them feedback on the topic, but seriously, emailing on my cell is way too expensive to be worthwhile under a Rogers plan, especially if I’m using an ordinary phone.

    On the other hand, they do provide a call-in service but it wastes your minutes as you have to wait through a robot to go through instructions before you get your chance to put a number in. Needless to say, I just memorized the bus times. Seems like the cheaper alternative.


  7. Personally I think something like the VIVA stops makes the most sense, the bus shelter allows you to buy tickets, and gives the next 3 buses to the stop, however that means putting some kind of display device on each bus stop, which could be quite expensive. Could also be completely useless if that bus is ahead of schedule, or well behind schedule and the display does not reflect the fact. For example showing a bus due in 3 minutes is not useful if that bus is running 4 minutes ahead, and passed by already. Such displays would need to show the actual estimated ETA of each vehicle.


  8. @Raffi: I assume VIVA went with email instead of SMS because the former is relatively cheaper to provide (and much simpler to set up). Interacting with users via SMS can be a strange and comparatively expensive thing to do, whereas setting up an email responder is fairly straightforward. I offer this as a possible explanation, though, rather than an excuse…


  9. Wogster said, “Personally I think something like the VIVA stops makes the most sense, the bus shelter allows you to buy tickets, and gives the next 3 buses to the stop, however that means putting some kind of display device on each bus stop, which could be quite expensive.”

    There are some more economical ways around this. It is not necessary to have a 2-line scrolling display at every stop.

    In Oslo, many busy stops have a smaller 2-line display with the ETA of the next route (bus or tram) on the first line and a scroll of the next half hour or so of estimates. At less busy stops, there is just a two-digit seven segment display showing you the estimated number of minutes of the next arrival. These simpler displays are more common at stops served by fewer different routes, as there is a fixed sign labelling what route the display is for (with a separate number displayed for each route, I have only seen this at stops served with one, two, or three routes).

    Melbourne has been adding display screens to more and more stops, but one other interesting feature at some stop (some with a display and some without) is a pushbutton/speaker unit that verbally tells you the estimated time of the next vehicle.

    Wogster also said, “Could also be completely useless if that bus is ahead of schedule,”

    Not really. The way the system for VIVA works is that it uses a combination of GPS location information along with a database of “known details” to constantly update the display. What this means is that if you were at a stop right now and the next bus were at a certain position, the information on that location, how fast the bus has recently been going, and what things (i.e.: traffic lights, stop locations) are between the bus’ location and your stop are used to calculate an estimated number of minutes. If the bus happens to get through a few lights or past a stop or two without stopping, or through a fast patch, the ETA update will drop suddenly or if the bus gets delayed, the ETA will increase.

    I recently was at the VIVA stop eastbound on Highway 7 at Leslie. A bus just arrived at the West Beaver Creek stop and the display showed “2 minutes”. That time was typical for this movement, but the bus got back into traffic before its light changed and moved well. Less than 30 seconds later, as it entered the right-turn lane for Leslie (which is York-region typically long, with enough room for about a half-dozen buses!), the display changed to “1 minute”. I expected the bus to be caught at the red light and I would see the display change to “due” about half way through the red cycle. It got there with the light still green and as it entered the intersection (less than 30 seconds from the last display update), the display changed to “due”.

    Now, I have seen displays change to “due” when the bus still needed 2 minutes to arrive, but the point is that constant real time updates using the latest information available creates a feeling that one is not waiting as long as one would with no idea of when a bus is really coming until it was close enough to actually read its destination sign. I guess what I am saying is that it doesn’t have to give you a guarantee — just a reasonable hope!

    Steve: One other important tidbit is that the information system has to know the route and destination of the approaching vehicle. Although the route is known to the existing TTC system, the destination may not be, especially if it is a short turn.

    Indeed, the existing system ties itself in knots when a vehicle doesn’t go where it is expected to go.

    The last thing you want is to be told that a “501 Long Branch” car is only minutes away, only to find that it is actually short-turning at Dufferin when it arrives.


  10. We must, however, give credit where credit is due. The TTC has posted the service changes for November 23. Nice to see changes posted BEFORE the changes are implemented!


  11. Now we “just” need to get the TTC to post ALL the documents distributed to the Commission (and maybe start using pdfs). There is lots of potentially useful information buried in the Capital Budget (which is not available online) – such things as the 5-year schedule for streetcar track and overhead replacement, major repair projects and, of course, major purchases. It really shouldn’t be too hard to do and they will send one (hard) copies of items of interest, if you ask them (and know what to ask for.) It would be easier for everyone if the documents were simply posted.

    Steve: I spent yesterday afternoon reading the detailed Capital Budget — all 1700 pages of it. You really don’t want all this as a single PDF. What I really don’t understand is why the TTC does not adopt the engine that drives the City’s agenda pages and post all of their reports just like a Committee of Council and Council itself.


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