If you ask five people in any given city how to get to a location via public transportation, you’re likely to get five different answers, some of which might take you on a totally roundabout route to your destination. Additionally, most people have their own preferences of transit type, whether it’s taking a bus or a train.
Even avid transit riders that take the same route every day are affected by delays caused by traffic or transit strikes, so it’s important to know what other route options will get you to where you are going on time. Turns out, you have access to the best answer by using an app on your smartphone.
If you live in a major city supported by a large public transit system such as New York City or San Francisco, you likely have access to a mobile app provided by your local transit authority, as well as other free transit apps and map options available in the App Store and Google Play. However, many notifications are still static and do not provide real-time data updates. Even the official notifications rely on estimates, which quickly become outdated and inaccurate when there is a problem that causes a significant delay. When there is an unexpected change in schedule, a crowdsourced model that engages with its community of users to provide updates delivers that real-time information is the best option.
Public transit riders often spend time waiting for the bus or train to arrive with no idea as to what might be causing a delay. An app that utilizes real-time data can help you figure out your options and take action. If you know the cause of a delay, you can then share that information with others that depend on the same route for their commute. This real-time feedback allows the community to work together; it empowers users and enables them to make better transit decisions.
For commuters that don’t live in a major city with a mobile app available through the local transit agency, there may not be many other tools that provide data about transit schedules and updates. So how can you get real-time access to transit information? By adding firsthand information to an existing transit app.
The first step is finding an app that offers this capability. Many third-party apps do not offer this functionality to their community members, but some do exist that provide access to a web platform with editing capabilities. With these capabilities, there are now online tools available to input the data about the existing transit lines and the schedules. This may sound like a task for a developer, but you don’t even need to understand basic coding to do this.
Interested in trying it out for yourself? One of the formats that helps to make this possible is called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). This feed specification provides public access to transit map data and the files can usually be found on a public transit website. Once those transit lines have been entered, they are then checked for accuracy and can be accessed by anyone that downloads the app. This method can still be static but if you are using a crowdsourced platform then there is the opportunity to leverage the community to share real-time updates.
When transit riders share data, a live network is instantly created via the app right on your mobile device. Riders contribute information as they discover it, allowing the local community of travelers and commuters to access the same data instantly. Once a rider benefits from real-time data, they’re more likely to pay it forward and contribute. This helps to build a community, which is then leveraged by millions of commuters every day before they even start their daily journey.
Alex Mackenzie Torres is the chief marketing officer at San Francisco-based Moovit, a crowdsourced public-transit app available in 800 cities worldwide. Previously, Torres worked for more than nine years at Google, where he performed different functions in project management and product marketing roles, launching new products including Google Site Search and new Google Search Appliance versions.