We’re pleased to announce version 1.2 of Transit to Go, now containing all 2200+ transit stops served by Halifax Metro Transit. What’s that? Did you say that we now cover the entire Halifax Metro Transit system? Yes!
Since it was launched about a month ago, Transit to Go has used a modified version of the hbus.ca trip planning site for its underlying data model. hbus.ca was launched in March 2009 to some small amount of fanfare, being the first usable trip planner for the HRM covering a substantial portion of its routes. It was produced without the cooperation of the city, using information scraped from the pdf schedules and information gathered by hand using a bike and a GPS. It wasn’t complete by any means (only really covering downtown Halifax and some parts of Dartmouth and Clayton Park), but it was a good start and showed the potential of the technology. Still, a “good effort” is a small consolation to someone not living in an area which was covered by hbus. The main thing missing for this to work well was data, but time to gather it was limited and it seemed impossible to get any cooperation from the city (or Halifax Metro Transit) on that. Citing concerns about how it would be used, detailed transit information for the HRM was kept proprietary, out of reach of independant developers.
Transit to Go, released earlier this year, provides another compelling example of the utility of open data. Trip planning as provided by services like hbus or Google Transit is great, but there are often far more options than can reasonably presented in such a system. For example, there are at least 20 buses which can take you from downtown Halifax to the north end. Frequent users of such systems eventually come to use them less to plan trips than to see what transit vehicles might be coming in the relatively near future. Why not just collapse such information into an easy to use view? As a bonus, the user would no longer have to manually enter their starting and ending points. Just press the GPS button! Talk about making transit easy and accessible! Unfortunately, since it was using the same data as hbus, Transit to Go suffered from the same problem: lack of coverage of areas outside downtown Halifax. That is, until now.
Thanks to the fortuitous series of events (mostly being put in touch with the right people) and the cooperation of HRM’s web department, we recently got a hold of the official GTFS feed from the city. It’s a small irony that this basically consisted of imparting one piece of information: the URL of the Google Transit Feed on HRM’s servers. All sorts of finangling for one small piece of information! But who cares about that now? What matters is the end result. After some minor clean up of the provided data (to fit the stop information for the iPhone’s limited display size), we were ready to go. A new release which was vastly more useful than before. We hope you love it.
What’s next? Well, obviously a new version of hbus.ca is warranted, and we at Mindsea are working hard at making that happen. The new data did reveal some problems in our trip planner which we’re working hard to fix. Expect some news on this in the coming weeks.
Looking further ahead, our understanding is that the city staff are pushing to move towards a complete open data policy (like that used by the city of Vancouver) which would make this (and other) data available to anyone, without going through the ringamarole of a formal approval process. What does this mean? More useful iPhone apps, more cool visualizations, and, yes, more useful web applicationsI If you think this sounds as cool as we do, please send a note to your councillor saying that you support this move. Let’s unlock the creative potential of Halifax’s developer community!