Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunken treasures - or, why it has to be Google Transit

There are two main reasons why municipalities resist policy direction from upper levels of government. The first is something that I call the Fiefdom Theory - that municipal leaders know what is best for their communities and others should butt out. In many areas they do know best, but issues like development and transportation need to be addressed from a regional perspective. We are all going to have to intensify and build sustainable transportation to accommodate future growth, so there are many cases where we will need provincial policy to override a desire to stay low-density or to "do their own thing."

The other theory is an economic one - that municipal policy is expensive to develop and, in an era where most municipalities don't have a lot of money, to override carefully drafted plans is an exercise in flushing municipal cash down the drain. But again, there are times when we have to look at the bigger picture. Case in point, there are rumours that Brampton is opposed to a light rail line on Hurontario (which Mississauga seems to support) because they have sunk so much into their Acceleride rapid bus initiative. While most insiders agree that LRT is justified south of Square One, it is true that ridership begins to drop off the further north one travels. A case could be made to creep the LRT north - first to Square One, then to the new 407 park-and-ride station, then to Shoppers World - but stopping it there because of the sunken costs of an alternate proposal is not good planning.

Perhaps real reason for this post has become lost, but it's actually about trip planners. There's no question that an inability to comprehend complex schedules and transfers is a barrier to transit use, and a computerized trip planner is a good way of putting schedule information in the hands of riders. Some agencies have chosen to built their own trip planner, others have registered with Google Transit (an application inside Google Maps), and others have done both. But, there is a very good reason why we should exclusively recommend with the upmost strength the use Google Transit - the rise of the mobile internet.

Many of the in-house trip planners make heavy use of javascript and other advanced web programming languages, and these are often incompatible with the mobile browsers on Blackberry, iPhone and Android devices. With smartphones finding their way into the hands of more and more consumers, a compatible trip planner could give riders on-demand schedules and give them the confidence to leave their cars at home and explore the city. Riding from Oakville to Hamilton yesterday (and having no idea where I ended up), I used Google Transit to find transit directions from Eastgate Square back to the GO station - all while standing at a random corner in Stoney Creek. Had the Hamilton Street Railway used a in-house planner (as they once did) then this might not have been possible.

With Metrolinx and the TTC working on their own trip planners, we have an opportunity to make them more convenient for the users. Regardless of how much has been sunken into in-house planners, exporting the data in a Google-friendly format will do just what a trip planner is supposed to do - make finding schedules more convenient for users everywhere.

Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

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At 6/17/2009 12:29 a.m. , Anonymous Joe Clark said...

Here’s an excellent reason why “we” should not “exclusively use” any Google mapping application: Because I’ll volunteer my services for free as an expert witness in the ensuing human-rights complaint, which we’d win. Nobody with a vision or mobility impairment can use these things. Accessibility is a legal requirement even if it’s too uncool for your own personal taste.

Sorry, but “I just love Google Maps” or “I really find it convenient” are not actual reasons to use such services. Neither is “Doing it right sure is taking a while. Why can’t we buy off the shelf?”

At 6/17/2009 12:45 a.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

I think the whole point of my post is that a successful trip planner lets its users plan their trips from anywhere. When it's all said and done it doesn't really matter what brand name the trip planner has attached to it.

All I know is that I can't use Mississauga, Brampton or York Region's trip planner from my mobile device - and that's a shortcoming.

I have gone ahead and removed the word "exclusively". However, I do resent some of the words you have used, sir.

At 6/17/2009 10:08 a.m. , Blogger leonsp said...

Are any of the Mississauga, Brampton, or York Region trip planners accessible? I have more faith in Google's developers being able to come up with something accessible than I do in consultants that TTC would inevitably hire doing the same.

Searching suggests that Google Maps and Google Transit are somewhat accessible or at least screenreader-compatible:



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