TTC trip planner ready to be launched

ttc-ca-2010

Spacing and our friends at Torontoist have learned that the TTC is finally set to launch their trip planner within the next two weeks, and possibly as early as next week. The much-needed and long-awaited web-based feature will be available from the TTC’s web site (ttc.ca), but a specific application for mobile devices like the iPhone or BlackBerry is still months away from public release. In order to use the trip planner while on-the-go, riders will have to access it through a web browser on their phone.

The trip planner will work in the same way as Google Maps, but with selected TTC bus, streetcar and subway routes. The length of the transit trip will be listed while riders will also be able to add or remove specific types of transit (ie, subway and streetcar only).

The trip planner was originally projected to be released in the late summer of 2009 and is being added at an additional cost to the main site’s development. From our June 2008 post I wrote, “The trip planner will be available as a beta version in early 2009, with fully functional planner ready for June 2009. TTC staff indicated that the data for a trip planner has taken much longer to implement than anticipated.”

For a little bit of background as to why this is slightly exciting: Back in January 2007, Spacing teamed up with Torontoist, BlogTO, Reading Toronto, and our thousands of combined readers to force the TTC to withdraw a web site development request-for-proposal that was highly-flawed (for example, it did not include a trip planner).

Each blog solicited ideas from it’s readers asking what they thought the TTC needed to do to improve it’s web site. A fat stack of print outs was submitted to the TTC as part of the public consultation process. A few months late a new RFP went out, and a large portion of our requests were included. the TTC’s current web site was made public in June 2008.

Editor’s Note: the reason why this post leads with “Spacing and our friends at Torontoist have learned…” is because we learned about it at the same time, and decided not to race each other to see who could publish it first.

21 comments

  1. Can we expect the same level of service from this as their surface routes?

  2. The real question is: Will there be a GTFS feed?

  3. While this may be a great resource for people who plan trips/life online (how big of a percentage of TTC users actually do this?) it hardly improves system understanding from bus stop, streetcar and subway signage.

    If I’m standing, waiting for a bus and confused by an unclear route map and service schedule, a sign stating that I can plan my route online will probably anger me further… and I’m “web savvy.”

    Either way, looking forward to seeing if this will improve upon the independent http://www.myttc.ca planner that has been a great resource for my new trips.

  4. If the TTC would offer the data properly, in GTFS or at least a format they maintain and provide updates for, I promise I (and others) can offer this type of stuff for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Symbian and the rest– all it takes is reliable open data. Right now my app, TTC Mobile, is iPhone-specific because it reformats TTC.ca pages using Safari on the iPhone. By doing so, it is the ONLY app on the app store that is up-to-date. And yet it offers features some people love– even as still others (50 in the last month) want additional features I would need GTFS (or similar) data to achieve. This includes offline, trip planning, custom mapping (with Toronto.ca/open Centreline and Addressing data), and more. And other platforms, like often requested BlackBerry, Android, or eve Symbian/Nokia Ovi, require reliable data. But my request to the TTC has been waiting over a week, @bradTTC ignores me, and scraping the ttc.ca site is both tedious and lacks GPS data. Sigh. If you want to hear more of my thoughts, please visit my blog, http://blog.lsta.me or follow me on Twitter, http://Twitter.com/4lou

  5. Louis: myttc.ca made a good planner, they updated their site so now it gives me a route plus two alternatives.

    now to the rest of people: Why did it take so long? look what myttc.ca did, I just wish they would make a app for blackberry that sucks up updated information from an rss feed maybe?

    Not that I trust schedules, sometimes what says on ttc.ca is not what it says on the pole at the stop.

  6. Two critical words missing from the post above: Google Transit. 440 cities already do it, nine of them in Canada, which means immediate access from Blackberry (with Google app), iPods etc. Hey, it takes time – only 4+ years from first being asked at the Commission…

    I can understand and commend the desire to put up a proper post on this and not race Torontoist – but why did it take until noon when this was being trailed on twitter last night? Was there some kind of embargo?

  7. We were both writing it last night and wanted to give each other time to wait for quote requests to come in (none did, as you can see).

  8. I think that allowing potential riders to deselect a particular mode is a bad idea. It really irks me when people would rather drive to the subway even though there is a bus 2 minutes from their home, and I worry that this will encourage (or not discourage…) this kind of behaviour.

    My two cents anyway…

  9. Hopefully they can get this finalized before Mr. Rossi is elected mayor or else we may never see it.

  10. G
    T
    F
    S

    (or any other open, easily parseable format, but why reinvent the wheel?

    come on.

  11. Trip planner is nice toy …

    But when will NextBus be expanded from only 2 routes?

    Most people make the same trips day after day. A trip planner would get used once in a while while NextBus would be used ever day!

  12. Meanwhile YRT not only offers trip planning and Google Maps, but now real time updates on when the next bus is arriving.

    http://www.yrt.ca/RideNow/discover.html

    Mix YRT’s fresh and modern approach to marketing, and the TTC’s approach to frequent and reliable service, and you’d have a pretty sharp transit system.

  13. Also just noticed that it will be on “selected” routes. So after 3 years, and god knows how much money spent, it won’t even cover the entire network! Meanwhile, hobbyists have already done this… for FREE!

  14. At long, long, long last.
    But is this just the trip planner, or does it include the next vehicle visualization stuff too?
    myttc.ca does a good enough job on the route planning that that’s what I’m really waiting for.

  15. If the TTC had produced myTTC.ca, people would be roasting them for it – it comes up with some pretty questionable routes.

  16. Hmmm – I wonder if they will include alternate entrances for stations when walking to a given subway station. I compiled the GPS coordinates of most alternate entrances in December 2008 and gave these to MyTTC.ca but they seemingly have not implemented these. Google Maps doesn’t show alternate entrance, ***nor does the TTC’s own literature, even when you drill down to the individual station pages***. Sheesh, Mr. Giambrone, at least put copies of the “local area” maps that are present in the stations themselves on the TTC site!

    The GPS coordinates for all entrances are available here:

    http://home.snafu.de/provart/TTC/TTC_stns_w_alt_entrances.csv

    I hope someone can make use of these data.

  17. Trip planner, that is so 1995. Real time location updates on my phone is where TTC should be at.

  18. @Brian, Jarek, Louis and others:

    Formats like GTFS are only as good as the data they contain. While they can help promote good data through structure, they’re not a silver bullet by any means. The current TTC data itself is a hot mess; no container in the world can fix that.

    @ all the Google Transit advocates:

    While Google Transit is an excellent resource, I don’t think you’ll find many agencies choosing to offer it exclusively as their official trip planner. I can’t imagine any public agency willing to solely rely on a free service for something so critical to their ridership.

    While many users of Google products find it hard to imagine, Google (or at least the product in question) could _simply vanish_ tomorrow. Seriously:

    http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/20487/google-closes-down-six-projects

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_China#Controversy

    What if the TTC used Gmail and Twitter for all their communications? Cool? Sure. Smart? Maybe not so much…

    I applaud Google for GT, and suspect it will be around for years to come. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons we started producing a GTFS in the first place. If they didn’t require agency endorsement we’d already have two supplements to the long-awaited TTC planner, and choice is rarely a bad thing for users.

    Personally, I’d love to see _every_ transit authority maintaining a good GTFS feed, for Google and others alike.

    @Louis:

    You’ve been extremely vocal about your app being the ONLY one that contains “correct” data. I assume you base this statement on the fact that your data comes directly from the TTC.

    However, it should be noted that the TTC currently offers four *distinct and contradictory* sources: The website, toronto.ca/open, service summary PDFs, and printed schedules. So the question remains: which one is “correct”?

    In my experience, none of the aforementioned sources are either complete or correct:

    The “to/open” data lists 52 of 69 stations, 8 of which are Downsview. Enough said.

    The website data is both confusing and just plain nonsensical when taken as a set (buses disappear, then reappear several stops later; some buses exist for only one stop overall; many branches are missing; some claimed routes have been long discontinued… etc).

    Anyone who has waited at a stop with printed schedules will attest to the fact that they’re rarely accurate. And for every printed schedule, there are often many branches that simply don’t appear.

    Even the service summaries (which is the seed of the MyTTC data) are not without their own unique problems. Only after a lot of manual corrections, additions and careful vetting of the scheduled services are we able to generate a coherent dataset, the accuracy of which we can only assume is “close”.

    Even if a “correct” schedule existed for the TTC, the actual performance of vehicles will invariably diverge due to real-time adjustments by the dispatchers, who: short-turn buses that are behind schedule; add vehicles to busy routes to deal with increased ridership; deal with vehicle breakdowns & passenger incidents that remove vehicles entirely; and react to unforeseen traffic conditions like congestion, construction and accidents.

    Basically, the best any schedule app and/or route planner can offer is a “best guess” under ideal conditions.

    All that said, don’t let the TTC stop you from writing your apps! We’ve been offering our TTC GTFS data under an open source license for almost 2 years now. You can start building all the apps you talk about today using either our GTFS feed or our developer web API: Offline data, trip planning, custom maps, and native apps for Android, Symbian, Blackberry et al. Then, if and when the TTC releases a coherent GTFS feed you can simply switch your source to them! That’s the real benefit of standardized formats.

    As to being ignored by the TTC: instead of lamenting about what *could* be done, just build rad shit. Let your apps & users speak for you.

    @Paul:

    We welcome your feedback! The TTC is a very large system, and user feedback is the only way we can discover 100% of the bugs. If you (or anyone else) finds something wrong with our data and/or planning algorithm, I hope you’ll let us know. You can use the feedback box on every page of our site or just email me or Kevin directly @ kieran/kevin(at)refactory.ca

    Cheers,
    Kieran

  19. @everyone who replied to me (Louis) above

    Thanks for the replies. Oh and @Nick, I like your alternate entrances suggestion. In my most recent blog post, at http://blog.lsta.me/ I’ve written up what I think would be the ultimate TTC app, and part of that is indeed having a system smart enough to know where alternate entrances are and to show you what’s nearby entrances too. Sadly, GTFS data (used in Google Maps) is not necessarily precise enough to offer “alternate” stops for stations, merely one stop to represent the entire station.

    When I say “correct” I mean perhaps “official”, or at least “up-to-date”. And while the other apps use myttc data, they aren’t updated, and that’s a shame. I am working on an iPhone GTFS parser, as my blog mentioned, and I would absolutely love to work on/with the myttc data, along with any scraping efforts of the website. If there are contradictory times, why not share them all?

    So in that way, I plan on making my next app have contradictory times where necessary, focusing both on official and unofficial accuracy, ideally while embedding GPS data from passengers and drivers. I’ve received quite a few emails from TTC drivers complementing the app and if the app works on other cell phones, I can imagine a time when one person on average, in every bus/streetcar/subway is running the app in the background (which will soon be possible on iPhone according to 4.0 rumours). The app will always be free, and might even be open source (why not?), and I’ll either try to support the project via minimal ads or as advertising itself (of me, I mean).

    I realised after the fact, why am I complaining so much? After all, with well over 6000 downloads (estimated) by now, I’m sure if I added a feature request function that acted as a petition (or sent emails to relevant officals) that I could get people to get the TTC to support projects like mine. The trouble isn’t even GTFS — it’s the way new features are rolled out, like alert systems and GPS data. Why the heck isn’t all this as open and hackable as possible? Why doesn’t the TTC link to sites like myttc.ca or my app, and support them as community efforts the way the community site datato.org is supported by toronto.ca/open? Why do they post incorrect data at toronto.ca/open? Sigh.

    Anyway, I’m glad to have this type of discussion spring up in the comments on a blog. I wonder when media will pick up on our data distress and attempts to correct or work around it? In addition, I want to work with @bgilham on an enhanced #ttcu … Maybe with stuff like @AmberTraffic alerts also, so that when problems or detours occur, they’re embedded in the route info and can appear (with varying importance levels) as pings on your mobile device while you’re travelling.

    Perhaps a directions/routing system could be smart enough to route around such trouble and traffic, or suggest events and sight-seeing routes?

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