As you may have heard yesterday, Edmonton Transit (ETS) now officially supports Google Transit for trip planning. What that means is that you can enter an address in Google Maps and get directions using public transit to another address. You can look up trip plans from any device that supports Google Maps, including the BlackBerry and iPhone. This has actually been possible since late October, as I mentioned in a previous post.
Edmonton is the 8th Canadian city to support Google Transit. Councillor Don Iveson demonstrated the service today at City Hall. You can read the press release here, and you can check out the official ETS page here.
So what’s new?
First and foremost, the data is up-to-date and accurate (more on this below). You generally don’t have to worry about relying on the data in Google Transit. Secondly, Google Transit now understands ETS landmarks. This means you can type your home address as a starting point and “Millgate Transit Centre” as the destination, and Google will understand what you mean. These are the two primary reasons that ETS didn’t officially launch this back in the fall.
How does it work?
ETS has an agreement with Google to provide them with up-to-date data once a week (this time period can be different for each transit agency). If there’s a change in the accuracy of the data, ETS must provide Google with an update. This means there may be a small window of time during which ETS has more accurate information than Google, but in practice that’ll only happen for emergencies as most changes are planned and announced in advance.
The data is transferred in a format called the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). It’s up to ETS to ensure the GTFS data they provide is valid. Now that the “preview” period is over, Google automatically fetches the most recent data from ETS servers and applies it to Google Maps.
Why is this service important?
The Google Transit service offers a number of benefits. It’s really easy to use – just enter a start and end address and click get directions. I think it’s great for attracting more ridership to ETS as well. Young people are already familiar with Google Maps, and the thousands of individuals walking around with smartphones now have trip planning with them at all times. Visitors to our city are another group that will benefit, as they’re likely already familiar with Google Maps and no longer have to figure out the ETS trip planner.
Marketing will be the biggest thing initially. This service is only useful if people know about it! Edmonton was just listed on the Google Transit site, and information about Google Transit was just added to the ETS site this morning. Presumably introductions to the service will be added to all of the ETS information and promotional materials as well.
Though ETS is working on improvements to its own trip planner (which originally launched back on June 21, 2004), they fully expect usage to decline as people switch to Google Transit. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide transit agencies with statistics of any kind, so ETS won’t know exactly how many people are using the new service. Both services will co-exist.
Can we get the data now please?
I hope access to the GTFS data will be made available soon. Now that ETS has sorted out the process for publishing the data for Google, hopefully it’ll be simpler to come up with a process for getting the data to the rest of us too. Many other municipalities already publish their GTFS feeds for public consumption. There are lots of resources available for developers too, such as the GoogleTransitDataFeed open source project. Access to the data is the first step toward building an API for Edmonton Transit (ETS).
In the meantime, trip planning in Edmonton is now faster and easier! Click here to get started.