Edmonton Transit (ETS) officially launches Google Transit trip planning

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.

ETS Google Transit Press Event

You can see more photos and video from today’s event 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.

What’s next?

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.

11 thoughts on “Edmonton Transit (ETS) officially launches Google Transit trip planning

  1. I’d be interested to see the travel times. I think I’ll try out a few test runs from North to South in the city to see just how long it can take because from my limited experience taking Edmonton public transit is uber fail unless you’re moving in a straight line or are going somewhere close to an LRT station 😦

  2. I planned out my trip to and from the Edmonton Web Design and Developer Meet-Up tonight using this new service. Spot-on perfect. Each stop and transit stop number is correct. It lists the travel times and wait times just like the ETS Trip Planner does. It even has the multiple routes listed, same as ETS Trip Planner.

    I have been waiting for this type of service since I moved to Edmonton in early 2007. Go Edmonton!

  3. I heard about this on CBC am 740 on wednesday and was excited once I understood what it meant. I tried it out on my iPhone 3g but it loads a google map in safari browser, gets reeeaaaally slow and then crashes. I loaded up the google maps app but I don’t see anything in there for searching transit routes. Maybe I need to update my phone and hope there’s a google maps update included.. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone – glad to hear you’re finding the service useful!

    Josh – I would check to make sure you have the 2.2 firmware update, and the latest Google Maps update, but otherwise it should work fine! Generally it’s a lot faster on the iPhone than on the BlackBerry.

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