Metro, Sound Transit: a vision of data access, customer information

By Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond and Sound Transit Acting CEO Mike Harbour

Bus riders don’t just want to know when the bus is scheduled to arrive, they expect to know when it is really going to reach their stop. They want timely and clear transit information readily available at their fingertips – either through apps or mobile-friendly websites.

When King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine launched the regional transit integration initiative last year, ramping up our collaboration on customer-facing tools was one of his top priorities. We are pleased to report on our progress providing tens of thousands of bus riders the benefits of real time bus arrival information, through apps such as OneBusAway, the Puget Sound Trip Planner, and via Real Time Information Signs on selected corridors.

These tools are part of a continuing transit tech evolution and part of our ongoing effort to make it easy and convenient to take transit.

Open Transit Data
We started years ago by providing data to the University of Washington in our collaboration on OneBusAway.

Metro and Sound Transit are now expanding access to data through the recently-launched Open Transit Data (OTD) initiative. One of the ultimate goals of the initiative is to combine schedule and real-time data feeds for all transit services in the region and make them available from a single source – the OTD portal. That includes real-time Link light rail data as the system expands to the north east and south.

Under this initiative, Sound Transit will serve as the centralized regional hub of publicly available transit schedules and real-time data, allowing third party developers to receive the OneBusAway real time data stream, which includes transit vehicle locations and predicted stop arrival information. This will allow creative developers to find new ways to combine transit data with other publicly available data sources in ways that will benefit transit riders.

Having this “one stop shop” for both static and real time data, with supporting developer tools and information, will provide developers with more convenient access than if they had to connect with multiple agencies via different servers and processes.

As part of the OTD initiative, we recently made available the “General Transit Feed Specification – Real Time (GTFS-RT)” that contains real-time updates on the location of every bus in service operated by King County Metro and all Sound Transit routes except the 510, 511, 512, and 513. These vehicle location updates can be displayed on a map, or used to calculate bus arrival times at future locations along the route, as they are in OneBusAway.

Next steps
Metro has worked for decades installing and upgrading the internal systems, data management processes and the communication networks needed to track and report bus locations. Working with the University of Washington and now Sound Transit on OneBusAway has proven how this data can help tens of thousands of riders better navigate the transit system.

Moving forward with the OTD initiative shows our joint commitment to the vision of sharing data with the public.

That doesn’t mean we stop and call it good. The public is right to expect continuous improvement and refinement, and we agree and take this responsibility seriously. More fine-tuning and new data sources are on the way, and a team of technical and customer service experts at both agencies continue to make improvements.

We are committed to a path of providing transit data support to the development community that will rival any system in the country. The results will not happen overnight, but we will get there.