More than 3 million text messages were sent for ETS bus schedules in 2011

A little over a year ago Edmonton Transit (ETS) introduced bus schedules via text message. Simply send a message to 31100 from your cell phone with the bus stop number, and ETS will respond with a list of upcoming routes and times. It’s a fantastic service that I have used dozens of times over the last year, and clearly I’m not alone. A little over 3.1 million messages were sent last year! Here’s the monthly breakdown:

ets text messages in 2011

Back in June, when I wrote about the launch of the advertising component to the service, about 1.2 million messages had been sent, or 7050 per day. By the end of the year, the daily average had risen to 8494. You can see that the increase is due in large part to the back to school season – the number of messages sent jumped from 225,730 in August to 333,877 in September.

As expected, increased use of the text messaging service has led to a decrease in the number of calls made to BusLink, the automated 24-hour telephone line for transit information. Nathan Walters from ETS told the Journal that the number of calls dropped by 340,000 in the first nine months of last year to 2.8 million. I suspect it dropped even further when school started up again.

It’s great to see people embracing initiatives like this! ETS recently launched an updated Trip Planner that contains a number of new features like the ability to subscribe to email alerts for planned detours and bus stop closures, and there are additional technology-related services on the way. Should be an exciting year for connected transit riders!

Photo Tour: ETS Centennial Garage

About two months ago at the Youth Summit on Sustainable Transportation I had the opportunity to tour Edmonton Transit’s Centennial Garage, located at Ellerslie Road and 156 Street. The name commemorates Edmonton Transit’s 100th anniversary of service. The facility, which officially opened on April 10, 2010, primarily serves neighbourhoods in the west and southwest parts of Edmonton.

ETS Centennial Garage

The garage has space to store and maintain at least 250 buses, but is also home to administration offices as well as dispatch and support. More than 250 fleet services and bus operations staff work at the facility (that includes 200 operators).

ETS Centennial Garage ETS Centennial Garage

The building is massive, encompassing 7.1 acres (or 313,000 square feet, approximately five football fields). The budget for the garage was $99 million, $89.3 million of which came from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI). It was designed and built to LEED Silver standards, with features such as a solar wall for heating. Croy D. Yee Architect Ltd, Morrison Hershfield Limited, Earthscape Consultants, and Clark Builders were involved in the design and construction of the building.

ETS Centennial Garage

Some of the building materials used include 31 miles of electrical conduit, 1325 imperial tons of steel (structural steel was made up of 90% recycled content), 11,800 cubic metres of concrete (27.5% was reycled content), 3300 sprinkler heads, and 81 miles of in slab heating pipe.

ETS Centennial Garage

The Centennial Garage is the first garage in Edmonton designed to handle ETS’ 13 articulated buses, with a special hoist that can lift the 20-metre, three-axled vehicles.

ETS Centennial Garage

The storage part of the garage was fairly empty when we visted, as most buses were out on the road. It as neat to see the buses that were present parked nose to tail in long lines.

ETS Centennial Garage

ETS Centennial Garage

The high pressure wash system is what gets the buses nice and clean on the way into the garage. Apparently they had to turn the pressure down from the original setting, because it was causing the decals and advertising on the buses to come right off! In addition to being powerful, the system was specifically designed to cut down on water use by more than half.

ETS Centennial Garage

There are state-of-the-art systems in the building for monitoring carbon monoxide levels and maintaining comfortable heat and humidity. Energy modeling results indicate that the Centennial Garage is 33% more energy efficient than a typical building of its size and type.

ETS Centennial Garage

The ride out to the garage seemed to take forever (it’s really far south west) but it was definitely worth it to get a closer look at one of the facilities that keeps ETS running smoothly!

ETS Centennial Garage

You can see more photos from the tour here.

Bringing Smart Bus technology to Edmonton

On Tuesday the Transportation & Public Works Committee will receive a report on Smart Bus technology. In short, Smart Bus technology is actually a collection of technologies that will help modernize Edmonton Transit’s entire fleet of nearly 1000 buses. It includes things like automated stop announcements, automated vehicle monitoring, and yes, GPS location services.

There are a number of reasons that this technology is becoming necessary. For instance, between 2000 and 2009:

  • Annual ridership increased from 43 million to 68 million (60% increase)
  • Annual service hours increased from 1.56 million to 2.08 million (30% increase)
  • Annual passenger concerns increased from 8,327 to 13,616 (60% increase)

During the same timeframe, the number of staff to manage service and concerns increased from 25 to 30, which is just a 20% increase. In other words, “staffing has not kept pace with the growth and complexity of the increased workload.” I would add that if we really want to shift Edmonton’s transportation modes, we need to ensure our transit system is modern and efficient.

That’s where Smart Bus technology comes in. The technologies include:

  • Automatic Vehicle Location
  • Computer-Aided Dispatch
  • On-board Mobile Data Terminals
  • Real-Time Passenger Information Systems
  • Automated Stop Announcements
  • Automated Vehicle Monitoring

What will those technologies do for the day-to-day transit rider? Automated Vehicle Location and Real-Time Passenger Information Systems means no more waiting outside when it is 30 degrees below zero for a bus that is running late – you’ll be able to see the real-time location of your bus using the web or a mobile device. Computer-Aided Dispatch and On-board Mobile Data Terminals means that three buses on your route will never be running together – they’ll be evenly spaced out and thus will stay closer to the schedule because ETS control will know where they are and can provide direction. Automated Vehicle Monitoring means fewer buses broken down on the road, and fewer spare buses sitting in the garage – it’ll help ETS monitor the health of its vehicles to ensure they stay on the roads.

The other technology, Automated Stop Announcements, is really what drove this report in the first place. In some jurisdictions, calling out stops has become law, and there have been fines handed out when drivers failed to call out stops. There is no such legislation here, at least not yet, but we shouldn’t have to wait for that to happen. Automated Stop Announcements is an important accessibility feature of modern transit systems, and helps to support Edmonton’s diverse community of transit riders.

The report has been written to highlight the direct benefits to Edmontonians, but there’s important benefits for ETS itself too. The fleet size for 2011 is 959 buses, and that number is not getting any smaller. It’s amazing how much is done manually at the moment, and how “in the dark” ETS control is most of the time. There is no live telemetry from buses right now, which means any information control does receive is via radio transmission. I have heard that even on a normal day, there are a couple thousand calls into control from drivers. Furthermore, bus maintenance is difficult at best right now. There is scheduled maintenance of course, oil changes, etc., but really until a bus breaks down and must be towed into the garage, ETS doesn’t know if something is wrong. And because of the size of the fleet, the garage is packed – buses are parked nose to tail. The automated vehicle monitoring would let ETS know if something was wrong on a bus currently on the roads, and would enable them to pull problem buses into a “trouble lane” when they come back into the garage.

In the implementation details, the report says that tapping into the City’s open data catalogue “could” be possible. I think that once we have GPS technology on the buses, making that information available to citizens is vitally important and should be considered a “must”. In other cities with the technology, coffee shops have mounted LCD screens that show when nearby buses have arrived (kind of like airport display screens). Citizens always know where the bus is simply by glancing at their mobile device. ETS cannot be expected to write all of that software – Edmontonians will, as long as the data is made available (likely as an API rather than in the catalogue, because the data is “live”).

According to the report, outfitting the entire fleet with all of this technology would cost $32.7 million, and would cost $4.3 million to operate each year. It would take between three and five years to roll out completely. A pilot has been proposed (for 50 buses covering 2 routes) which would cost $3.4 million and would likely start by September 2012. For budgetary purposes, a second option has been included, which is just the Automated Stop Announcements. That would cost $11.5 million to equip the entire fleet, and would cost $1.2 million  to operate each year. The corresponding pilot would cost $2 million.

City Council likes options, but they shouldn’t have one in this case. Going with just part of the technology doesn’t make sense. It’ll deliver only partial benefits today, and will cost much more in the future to add the other technologies (which we will have to do at some point). Furthermore, if the Smart Bus technologies are separated, that opens the door for multiple vendors and thus integration problems. I really hope Council recognizes the importance of having all of the Smart Bus technology together at once and doesn’t delay unnecessarily (though I do think it would be worthwhile to figure out if/how Smart Bus technology can be deployed alongside the proposed civic smart card).

I think $33 million to make Smart Bus technology happen across the entire ETS fleet is worth it. The notion of using commodity GPS systems (like cheap cell phones) is attractive, but probably unrealistic given the harsh environment of a bus (hardware needs to be hardened and you can’t be running out to replace components all the time) and other operating requirements. The suite of Smart Bus technologies will provide major benefits to both riders and to ETS itself. And to be frank, the proposed budget is a rounding error compared to the amount of money we plan to spend on LRT, and we need buses to efficiently feed our LRT system to really get the return on investment that is possible.

Let’s bring Smart Bus technology to Edmonton!

You can see the report and attachments here, and you can follow along on Tuesday here.

Recap: Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally Open House

Last night was the open house for the City’s new Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL) initiative (you can read my previous coverage here). The event was meant to provide more details to the community, and to introduce the people behind the scenes. David Faber from the Deputy City Managers Office, Kamren Farr from TEC Edmonton, Keith Chorley from CoE IT, Bruce Beecher from CoE IT/Transit, and Cam Linke were all on hand to introduce the idea and answer questions. Roughly 25 people attended.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

David began by giving the pitch, essentially providing the same information he shared with me last week. He stressed that this is a pilot program, and that it’s okay to fail. The City of Edmonton is hoping to learn from the experience, and will be reporting back to Executive Committee with the results. David highlighted the intent of LTEL:

  • To communicate the services that the City of Edmonton provides.
  • To build bridges with the local community, to enable small tech companies to use the City of Edmonton as a sandbox.

Next up was Bruce, who provided some information on the challenge – creating a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s Lost & Found system. The current database was built with Access 97, and the IT branch is keen to replace it with something more modern. A few details on the system:

  • Roughly 1700 items are tracked per month
  • Items are stored for 30 days, and if not retrieved are then donated, auctioned, or otherwise disposed of. Passports, for example, are returned to the government, and cell phones are returned to the carrier.
  • Items are stored tagged in bins in a storage room that is roughly 20 feet x 20 feet.
  • Most wallets, cell phones, backpacks, and purses are collected within 2 days.

The basic business processes are:

  1. Enter articles – start tracking lost items
  2. Search articles – when someone calls with a description
  3. Claim articles – individual signs the tag upon retrieving the item
  4. Purge articles – items removed from database after retrieval or 30 days

Some of the opportunities identified include:

  • Improved security and access control
  • Multiple item search (currently you can only search one item at a time)
  • Track people inquiring about items
  • Enhance reporting
  • Potentially something generic enough that other CoE departments could use it

Kamren was up next, to provide the preliminary market assessment. He talked about the “lost and found” industry, and highlighted solutions at TransLink and the New York transit authority as best-of-breed. There are four existing types of lost and found systems:

  1. Public – transit, etc.
  2. Private – hotels, etc.
  3. Return service – you pay for tags or some incentive to return
  4. Online classifieds – lost and found posters, basically

He went on to talk about market segments, and highlighted some of the market drivers, opportunities, and challenges.

The challenge was eventually described as:

Use technology to reduce costs for the customer (City of Edmonton) and increase recovery rates for users (people who have lost things).

All of this information will be made available on the LTEL page. The only other pertinent detail is that the upper limit for the budget is $75,000. Technical requirements and other details will also be posted on the website.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

My Thoughts

I talked with a number of people after the session to get their perspective. Most folks seemed excited about the idea. Andrew from dub5, in particular, said he was impressed that the City of Edmonton took the time to get this pilot started, and suggested that it was a big step in the right direction. Bruce Winter echoed that sentiment, but like me, was hoping for something a little more visual.

Here are my thoughts on the open house:

  • The City needs to do a much better job of spreading the word. I realize they wanted to manage expectations, but I don’t think enough people knew about last night’s event.
  • I would have loved to have seen the format of the event mimic DemoCamp. Instead of slides full of bullet points, why not demo what they currently have?
  • I get that a lost and found database isn’t particularly exciting, but that doesn’t mean that the presentation can’t be. Instead of telling us there’s a 20×20 room packed with items, why not show a photo?
  • This is going to sound harsh, but Kamren’s presentation wasn’t much more than a Google search. Very basic business concepts (competition, market segments, opportunities, challenges) and nothing more than the names of some other lost and found systems. I’m still wondering what exactly TEC Edmonton and EEDC bring to the table, besides a couple more names?

My biggest concern however, is related to the very first question I asked. I wanted to know if there were any technical requirements, and specifically, if the application had to be on-premise (meaning the City of Edmonton hosts and manages it). Keith answered yes, tech requirements would be provided, and that yes, the solution needs to run in the City of Edmonton’s existing infrastructure. One of the stated goals of LTEL is to expose the City of Edmonton to some of the innovative ideas of the local tech community, so this seems like a big step in the wrong direction. Maybe there’s a good reason for this particular solution, but if so it was not made clear. I think putting up big restrictions like that right from the start limits the potential solutions the City could learn about. (Also, I was under the impression the City wanted to get out of the tech business, by not doing custom development and reducing the burden of hosting and managing systems.)

This criticism is meant to be constructive. Overall I think LTEL is a good thing, and I want to see it succeed. I look forward to the rest of the process!

Stay tuned to the website for updates and an application form. Companies interested in developing a solution have until December 15 to express interest.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally – Open House on November 17

As you may have heard by now, the City of Edmonton is hosting an open house on Tuesday, November 17 (on ShareEdmonton) at City Hall to present a pilot project to interested members of the local tech community. The initiative is known as Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL), and the open house follows on the report that was presented to Executive Committee back in August. I’ll get to some of the event details in a second, but first I want to offer some background.

I heard about the open house late on Monday afternoon, and immediately posted a tweet. You might think that the City’s IT department would be behind it, but many of them only learned about it because of my tweet! And that’s where things get interesting.

I had the opportunity this week to sit down with David Faber, one of the folks making this initiative happen. David is the Executive Director of Enterprise Strategic Management in the Deputy City Managers Office. His involvement means that this initiative is happening at a level slightly above IT, as David is (along with his team) charged with strategy, direction, accountability, and stewardship for the entire City of Edmonton, not just IT. David’s job is to bring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan to life, and LTEL is just one of the ways in which he’s doing that.

As you might expect, David oozes passion for Edmonton. He’s been with the City of Edmonton for 12 years now, and even spent some time working in IT, so he has some experience in the field. For David, the LTEL initiative is about innovation and economic development, as well as the opportunity to simply connect with startups and other small tech firms in Edmonton. He outlined a few key goals of the initiative:

  • To bring the community together with the City, and to open the door at CoE for smaller companies.
  • To build shared learning by using the City as a sandbox and by not being afraid to fail.
  • To be supportive of the City Vision, which is to say that the LTEL pilot must be repeatable and sustainable.

I agree with Chris LaBossiere – this sounds like we’re on the right track.

I did explain to David that I was highly critical of the original report, and that I along with others in the tech community are concerned about EEDC and TEC Edmonton’s involvement. Unfortunately, David didn’t say much to alleviate my concerns when I asked how specifically those organizations would be involved, suggesting only that they would provide resources. I’m willing to wait and see how things turn out, because it certainly sounds like TEC Edmonton is less central to the pilot than was suggested in the original report.

We’ll learn more about the project at Tuesday’s event, but here’s what we know already:

  • The problem is to come up with a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s current electronic Lost and Found system.
  • Prospective participants must be incorporated companies by February 3, 2010, must have annual revenue of $2 million or less, and must be located within the City of Edmonton’s boundaries.
  • Prospective participants have until December 15, 2009 to express interest.
  • Potential solutions will be presented on January 28, 2010.
  • A selection announcement will occur on February 3, 2010 with the pilot project starting March 1, 2010.

The Lost and Found system was selected for two important reasons: it’s tangible, and already has funding attached. Representatives from IT, DCMO, ETS, and TEC Edmonton will be on hand to provide more information.

I’ll be there on Tuesday to learn more about it, and I hope you’ll consider attending as well.

Recap: TransitCamp Edmonton

On Saturday, May 30th we held the first ever TransitCamp here in Edmonton. Overall I’d say it was a success, though it didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected! I guess that’s the way it goes with unconferences. We had about 50 people in attendance, and my primary goal of getting a group of interested citizens together with ETS to talk about transit was achieved. Most people I had a chance to talk to after said they enjoyed the event, which was great to hear.

The main issue was that we didn’t have Internet access at the World Trade Centre, despite being promised connectivity when we negotiated the space. We had a few other options (AirCard from Chris, going down to the ETS offices in Scotia Place) but they resulted in confusion more than anything. In the end we decided to cancel the two Skype sessions, which was really unfortunate but allowed us to continue.

During the confusion, however, something really interesting happened. People just started sharing and talking in little groups! It was great to see such conversations taking place, and I suppose the lesson is that they probably wouldn’t have if everything had gone according to plan.

The sessions were all great, I thought. Chris Moore started things off with an interactive discussion about Edmonton Transit IT, examining what we have now, what we’ll have if nothing changes, and what we could have if we consider some possibilities. Next up was Rhonda Toohey, who shared with us the 100 Year LRT Expansion Plan that will go before council on June 2nd. We had two ETS Platinum Bus tours with Dennis Nowicki, and everyone seemed quite impressed with the high tech buses. Brendan Van Alstine led a discussion about TRUE. I shared my presentation on Data for Developers – software developers, not land developers! Councillor Iveson finished the day off talking about “Selling Transit”, using Toronto’s Transit City (which is what Adam Giambrone was scheduled to present) as an example of a successful sell. Throughout the day we had a whiteboard where anyone could write down a question, and we answered most of them during the wrap-up session.

I’ll be working to update the TransitCamp Edmonton site with slides, resources, and more information over the next couple weeks. Be sure to check out Alain’s post on the event, and the iNews880 coverage also. Sharon took a few photos during the day, which you can see here. Eugene posted some photos here, and Grant recorded some video that you can watch here.

Thanks to everyone who came out to TransitCamp, and a special shout-out to the three who came up from Calgary! I hope we’re able to do it again soon (in a venue with Internet) – though maybe in a different format. Let me know if you have any feedback, suggestions, or other ideas!

Edmonton Transit (ETS) – The Every Day Way

As you may have noticed, Edmonton Transit (ETS) has launched a new marketing campaign in conjunction with the grand opening of the McKernan/Belgravia and South Campus LRT Stations. I’m not sure which agency created the concept (or if it was done in-house), but I love it!

The Every Day WayThe campaign uses simple, bold wording and color schemes to convey a simple message: ETS is the every day way.

This is the right message for ETS. They need to get across the idea that you can use public transit as part of your daily routine. That transit can fit into your life in a positive way!

So far I’ve seen three:

  • The every day way to go green with a new routine
  • The every day way to save $5500 a year
  • The every day way to South Campus

Here are some others that could work:

  • The every day way to save money on parking and gas
  • The every day way to achieve a less-stressful commute
  • The every day way to reach your destination safely
  • The every day way to the Edmonton Eskimos

A second stage of the campaign could have real people in the ads, to try to eliminate any negative perceptions attached to riding the bus. I’m thinking “The every day way for Don Iveson” with a photo of him, that kind of thing. They don’t all have to be local celebrities, but a few wouldn’t hurt!

So far I’ve seen the ads in fluorescent green and pink on bus shelters, benches, and billboards. I’d really love to see the campaign expanded to other mediums also. How about radio spots? Internet ads? It’s a simple message that can be shared very easily.

What do you think – does the new campaign hit the mark?

Talking Tech with Edmonton Transit (ETS)

I was fortunate enough today to chat with Bruce Beecher and Dennis Nowicki from Edmonton Transit (ETS). Bruce is the IT Strategic Advisor for the Transportation department, and Dennis is the Director of Community Relations for ETS. Though we talked about a variety of things, the focus was technology.

I think there was some educating happening on both sides. I learned more about their situation and perspectives, and I hope they soaked up some technical stuff from me. I think it went really well!

What I’d like to share in this post is an overview of what we discussed. There’s nothing confidential here, but some of this information may still be new to you. They’re aware they need to improve on the communication side of things!

ETS has been evaluating potential technologies to deploy to the fleet for quite a while now (I wrote about some at last year’s Community Conference). These technologies include:

  • Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) – This is essentially a GPS module that would be installed on each bus.
  • Automated Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) – This is essentially giving riders access to that GPS information. That is, where is my bus right now?
  • Mobile Data Terminals (MDT)
  • Automated Stop Announcement (ASA) – No more peering out into the darkness to see if you’re at the right stop. Also important for accessibility.
  • Automatic Passenger Counter (APC)
  • Automated Fare Booth (Smart Cards)
  • Automatic Vehicle Monitor (AVM) – This would gather information about the engine, fuel consumption, etc. It’s like a black box for the bus.

Those are listed roughly in order of priority, though nothing is set in stone. In fact, the AVM might get bumped to the front of the list simply because it offers the best ROI for ETS. The ability to know what’s wrong with a bus on the fly would have a huge impact on the bottom line. Same goes for being able to determine if a bus is getting poor fuel consumption for some reason. Makes sense to me.

There are a few problems with all of this technology, mostly related to cost:

  • Edmonton has bumpy roads and extremely cold temperatures in the winter. On-board equipment needs to be hardened and reliable. We often can’t use the same stuff that San Francisco uses, for example.
  • Rough estimates place the cost per bus at $15,000. There are currently 903 buses in service.
  • By 2012, the number of buses will be closer to 1300, so it won’t get any cheaper to deploy.

Another issue is maintainability. Ideally, each bus would have one computer with a LAN of some kind that everything else just connects to, so that it’s all integrated. Otherwise you end up with many potentially disparate systems.

What I took away from all of this is essentially that ETS is keen to deploy GPS technologies and to make that information available to riders. The challenge is finding a way to make it happen.

Next we shifted gears and talked about the ETS website, Google Transit and my API idea (though I’m definitely not the only one with the idea…dub5 is another interested group). There are improvements to the ETS Trip Planner in the works, so watch for something during the summer. They’re also looking to improve the main ETS website, now that everyone has had time to digest the redesign.

Unfortunately I can’t talk as much about Google Transit as I’d like to just yet, but I can tell you that a major announcement is coming in the next week or so. I plan to cover it here, and you’ll no doubt see it in the mainstream media. Bottom line: ETS is fully behind Google Transit, and that’s a good thing for Edmontonians.

As for the API idea? They like it and would like to learn more about it. At this point however, getting access to a dump of the same data that Google gets is probably more likely. It would work like this: you sign some sort of agreement with ETS outlining the terms of use (basically something like “I agree not to misrepresent this information…”, and they send you the GTFS data. From there, you could do whatever you like with it. You could build and release your own API, for instance.

Is that going to happen – are they going to make the data available? No guarantees, but they will definitely consider it. Obviously an API would be better for accessing real-time data, but even a recent snapshot would be a step in the right direction. I think this is very encouraging!

If they do go down the data sharing route, I think we should organize an API building weekend!

The final thing I want to mention is that we talked briefly about RSS. My goal is to get every City of Edmonton department publishing as many RSS feeds as possible! It’s horribly underutilized at the moment. I think Bruce and Dennis definitely understand the benefit of RSS, and I hope to see some ETS feeds published soon!

Thanks to both Bruce and Dennis for a great conversation – I learned a lot, and I look forward to keeping the dialogue going.

I want an API for Edmonton Transit (ETS)

edmonton transit When the new website launched back in the fall, I was hopeful that the Edmonton Transit portion of the site would receive more than just a facelift. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Though I’m disappointed, I can understand why. Edmonton Transit is not in the business of developing websites or software, it’s in the business of transportation. They’ve got to make sure buses and trains run efficiently and effectively first, and then they can focus on everything else.

That’s not to say that the website, or BusLink (over the phone), or the other services they offer aren’t important, just that ETS has limited resources and must deploy them accordingly. That’s why I think an Edmonton Transit API makes a lot of sense.

To build an application for looking up transit information, you need both an interface and data (I’m simplifying things a bit). ETS has all of the data of course – they know all of the route numbers, bus stops, and schedule information. What they lack are great interfaces. If ETS exposed their data through an API, third party developers could build great interfaces on top with relative ease.

Here’s the kind of information I’d like to see exposed through an ETS API:

  • Route Information – return name, start and end point, and other details for a given route
  • Stop Information – return coordinates, address, photo, and other information for a given stop
  • Route Stops with Stop Times – return a list of all stops along a given route with stop times
  • Routes at Stop with Times – return a list of routes for a given stop with stop times for each one
  • Search for Stop by Location – return the closest stops for a given address or set of coordinates

That list is similar to the information exposed by the unofficial TransLink API. A good starting point would be to simply clone what they’ve done! More advanced API features could include:

  • Route Interruptions – return a list of routes currently affected by construction or other interruptions
  • Stop Interruptions – return a list of stops currently affected by construction or other interruptions
  • Search for Stop by Landmark – return the closest stops for a given landmark
  • Trip Planner – return a list of route and transfer options for a given location of origin and destination
  • Information for St. Albert Transit and Strathcona County Transit

In the future, the sky is the limit. I know ETS is testing GPS technology on buses, so why not expose “distance from stop” information for a given route? That would be wicked, and incredibly useful when the weather dips below –25 C.

It’s not feasible for ETS to develop interfaces for each new platform that emerges. They have a website, but what about an iPhone application? Or a BlackBerry application? Or a Twitter bot? If they focused their limited software development energies on building an API, I’m confident that local entrepreneurs and software developers would build a plethora of interfaces on top of it. I would definitely build a Twitter bot!

There don’t seem to be many transit systems with APIs available, but that won’t be true for long. Here are a few others I’ve found: TransLink (unofficial), Bay Area Rapid Transit (official), Portland’s TriMet (official), Chicago Transit Authority (unofficial), Charlottetown Transit (unofficial). And here are a couple other resources I’ve come across: the Public Transit Openness Index, and a list of publicly available official GTFS (Google Transit Feed Specification) schedule data feeds.

I’d love to see Edmonton Transit take the lead and offer a completely free, fully functional transit API, and I’d be willing to help make it happen. In the meantime, don’t forget that you can now use Google Maps to find ETS trip plans.