There’s an App for That
Open data has led to creative ways for riders to access information at their fingertips and at little cost to the agency.
“It kind of got driven by one individual, a real transit advocate, community activist, by the name of Chris Smith,” Hansen explains. “… three years ago he programmed his phone. He had three options to get home. He could either ride the streetcar or one of two bus lines. He programmed it so that when he wanted to go he would just pull up what the order of the arrival times of the three different options were.”
TriMet reviews any potential apps to make sure they’re supported and will work, and then they go on the system and people can make use of them if they choose to.
The day before I visited, five more apps were added. Hansen describes one of the newest apps. “… with the new 3G iPhones you can hold your phone up in camera mode, look down the street and it will show: the TriMet logos come up with the stop signs and it will also show you the arrival times of the vehicles at those stops.”
There are a number of reasons why Hansen thinks their apps have been so successful. “One is we have just excellent people in our IT department,” he stresses. “They’re leaders in the nation and could easily go get a job anywhere they wanted. So it’s talent.”
Second is that people at TriMet use the system. “As a result, you get kind of an instinctive understanding of what people want,” Hansen says. “People who ride the system know the same sort of thing. They want to know how to be able to really make use of our system and our data.”
In tight budget times and previously when looking at spending between $4,000 and $5,000 per stop for electrified stops with reader boards, phone apps are providing an inexpensive and rider-personalized option. “… people started having cell phones with this ability … so we said hold it, we are going to make the information available and let others use their devices to be able to access it,” he says. “And no with iPhones it’s unbelievably different,” he stresses. “Our goal is, except for in very heavily used areas, we’re not going to be supplying that information on reader boards, we’re going to expect people to use their own devices.”
The longest Hansen has had off between jobs in his career has been 11 days. He says with a laugh, “I don’t mind getting that up to 12.”
He says there’s never a good time to leave but chose this time because, as he says, “I think we’re through the worst of the budget process. I don’t think there’s going to be additional cuts and our labor agreement will be in the final process for resolution.
“The opportunity to be more seriously involved, for me at my age, I get to do one more thing significantly. I want to be able to have time to do that.
“ … sustainability, environmental, land-use transportation connections regionally, nationally and internationally are very important to me and so I hope to stay involved in those.”