The Edmonton Transit System recently launched its new real-time bus tracking initiative, dubbed ETS Live.
It’s a significant step forward for public transit in Edmonton: real-time bus information lets riders know exactly when their bus is coming so they aren’t left in the cold wondering when it’ll arrive.
The ETS hired a company called Trapeze Group to develop four separate tools to get real-time info into riders’ hands. It took the company seven months and $200,000 to develop them.
The only catch is… they aren’t very good.
One tool, called “Email & Ride” allows you to send an email to get bus updates. It’s a seamless process: just take out your phone, remove your gloves, open your email, click “compose new email”, type in the ETS email address (you better have it memorized), look up at your bus stop to find the stop number and type it in. If you’re not at your stop, you’re kind of out of luck.
Assuming you are at your stop though—just type that stop number into your phone (are your fingers cold yet?), just click send, wait a while (they’re probably cold by now), and receive an email from the agency about when your bus is coming.
See? We told you! Seamless.
How about the second tool: display boards. They cost $40,000 each. They’re certainly effective, but they’re not a scalable solution — of the 6,378 stops in Edmonton, only 2 have display boards.
The remaining funds were spent developing a website and mobile app. While the agency called it “very slick”, the people in Edmonton actually using it aren’t so sure. “Ugly and complicated” and “not even worth the three megabytes of space that it took up” are among the plaudits the app is receiving. It currently has a 2 star rating in the app store, and even an Edmonton city councilor called the app “terrible”.
And most Edmontonians aren’t even using it:
You’d think that maybe some other companies could do a better job of presenting Edmonton’s data in a way that consumers actually wanted. Unfortunately though, the city’s real-time bus data is not being shared with third parties.
The ETS said it would take “six to nine months” to make the data available. And even then, only to Google.
At the risk of sounding immodest, we think our app does a better job than what’s out there now. Our interface doesn’t require an expert-level understanding of the ETS, since as soon as you open up the app, you can see nearby routes and arrival times—no taps required.
And unlike the app developed by Trapeze, which 1) lacks a trip planner and 2) requires you to search stop/bus numbers to get any info — we do have a trip planner, and you don’t have to do any work to get the information you need.
But we have good news.
While the ETS said that it would have taken “six to nine months” to make the real-time available to Google, our team was able to extract the city’s real-time data, and make it available to Edmontonians with a few hours of civic hacking. For free. As of now, only 22 of their bus routes are reporting real-time info, but hopefully more will be added soon.
Giving people real-time bus information is incredibly important. It reduces wait times and leaves people feeling less anxious and frustrated when using the bus, which boosts ridership. Commuters in Edmonton can now access that information seamlessly, with Canada’s very own Transit App — the biggest public transport app in North America.
This isn’t the first time we’ve found a way to improve on Trapeze’s solutions: we did it last week in Baltimore, and Saskatoon is on its way. Our hope is to show all agencies that it’s more time- and cost-effective to open their data instead of wasting time and money trying to reinvent the wheel.
The best things in life are free, Edmonton. We hope you like our app.
Read more about how we’re conquering public transit, one city at a time:
How we saved Baltimore $600,000 in one day
A story of frozen fingers, civic hackers, and stacks of cash.