Follow That Car! (Updated)

Updated November 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm:

  • NextBus links added
  • Information about the Open Data interface added

Original post below:

With the advent of an Open Data interface to vehicle tracking information, there are now two websites providing real-time information about TTC streetcar routes (and a few bus routes) in addition to the official, but not well publicised, NextBus site.

This post is intended as a repository for information on these applications.  If anyone develops a new one, please let me know, and I will update info here.

George Bell’s Site

George’s site began using historic tracking data for individual routes that was supplied to me by the TTC for my route analyses.  Originally, the site allowed you to play back an individual day’s operation on a route to watch how it actually behaved.  This function remains in place along with real time views of the data posted through the Open Data interface.

Currently, this includes all streetcar routes as well as the Bathurst and Dufferin buses.  By default, all routes are shown, but you can select an individual route.  There is no filtering in either the historic or real time views, and the odd vehicle can be found in the middle of Lake Ontario or the wilds of Caledon when its GPS gets confused.  As I write thi, bus 1401 appears to be moored just south of the international border in what would otherwise be Scarborough if that mighty burg had territorial ambitions.

There are many available controls and I leave it to readers to play with the site.  Note that it tends to be rather CPU and bandwidth heavy for those who might be contemplating access from a mobile device.

And, yes, the URL is really “” for fans of the Swedish Chef.

James Agnew’s “Where is my Streetcar

This site, developed with contributions from Mike Humphrey and Dennis Yip, consolidates mapping and arrival projection information from NextBus in one package.  You can pick specific stops as points of interest to see what service will arrive, but the site will remember your favourites and offer them as easy clicks to save on navigation.

The map displaying the route will adjust to display that part of the city where the route lies.  Agnew and Co. may only be “programmers, not artists”, but conveniences like this are what make a good app.

Visit their “About” page for background info.


The official repository for TTC vehicle locations and predictions is NextBus.  This system, whose software shop is based in west downtown Toronto, provides the arrival predictions available by SMS message (using stop identifiers texted to a standard TTC number) and by web.

The TTC does not advertise the availability of vehicle predictions via web, and this is a really big shame because it is a very useful service that is not a big consumer of mobile bandwidth.

To access this function, you must visit and navigate through the list of locations down to the TTC.  If your browser supports cookies, NextBus will remember where you have been and will go directly to your recent query on your next visit.  Otherwise, bookmark the displays you will use commonly, and use any of them as a jumping off point for your next visit.

For example, I often transfer from the 501 to the 504 eastbound at Queen and Broadview.  Once I drilled down to the display for this service, I bookmarked it and can now quickly obtain next vehicle info.  The display refreshes, a nice touch for those cold winter nights when the King car is somewhere out of sight beyond the Don Bridge.

You can get from whatever display you are on to another direction, route and stop with a few clicks.

This site can also be used creatively to get a feel for the degree of bunching or location of gaps by jumping around a route and seeing what predictions look like at various locations.

Full route displays are available, but links to them are not provided.  Here is a link to the King car’s map.  A menu allows you to select multiple routes for display, handy for situations where service is provided by more than one route on the same street.

These two services — predictions and the maps — are not advertised by nor linked to by the TTC, but are easily the best part of the NextBus site.

While you’re there, you can watch the transit service in San Francisco, among other places.

Updated Nov 30, 2010:

A simplified interface to NextBus is available at their Webkit page.  There is also a barebones mobile interface.  The webkit page is better.

Toronto’s Open Data Initiative

The TTC’s Next Vehicle Arrival System data are available online from NextBus.  The data feeds include:

  • A list of supported transit agencies
  • A list of routes within an agency
  • A list of stops within a route
  • Predictions for service at one or more stops
  • A list of changes in vehicle locations

These interfaces are intended for application developers.

Three Views of Customer Service

Customer Service was a big issue in Toronto’s transit discussions over the past year.  Transit touches a wide group of users, and even those who drive listen to horror stories about bad transit trips if only to reinforce their own choice.  “Choice” is an important word for transit, and as with any business, customers are hard-won and easily lost.  The “product” isn’t just “getting there”, but doing so dependably in reasonable comfort.  Everyone knows that real products often fail to live up to the glossy brochure, and the beautiful merchandise in the shop window or online may not match personal experience.

Three different reactions were published in past months, and the contrast between them says a lot about their origins.

  • TTC’s Customer Service Advisory Panel produced a long, if not particularly well-edited report full of recommendations, but ending with an injunction to riders that they should mind their P’s & Q’s if they expect good service.
  • GO Transit announced its Passenger Charter, a much simpler set of goals developed in cooperation with GO’s Customer Service Advisory Committee and employees.  This charter is supported by a number of web pages where riders can track GO’s delivery of what it has promised.
  • The RCCAO (Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario) funded a report by Dr. Richard Soberman which recommends, among other things, a strong customer service focus in the provision of transit.

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