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May 31, 2012

CCTA Bus Schedule Data Now Available on Google Maps

Google-bus.pngIt's now a little bit easier to take a trip on the bus.

CCTA bus schedule info is now available on Google Transit. That means when you're looking for directions on Google Maps between places serviced by these bus systems, Google shows you a public transit option alongside the drive, walk and bike options.

Try it out! Enter your current address and where you want to go — Google will tell you where and when to pick up the bus, which route (or routes, in the case of transfers) to take, and what time you're expected to arrive at your location. It's important to note that this isn't realtime tracking data, so Google won't tell you where exactly your bus is along its route or if it will be late. But it does make it much easier to figure out how to take the bus efficiently, especially if you're just a casual bus rider. And it works on smartphone versions of Google Maps, too.

It's not just useful in Burlington, either. Live in, say, Waterbury? Google will give you driving or walking directions to the nearest park-and-ride and tell you when to expect a LINK bus there. And if you're traveling from Burlington to Middlebury, Google's directions transition from the CCTA to Addison County's ACTR buses, which are also on Google Transit. Easy-peasy!

Getting the CCTA on Google has been a long process dating back a few years, according to Ross Nizlek,  IT and scheduling specialist for the CCTA. To integrate with Google Maps, Google needs the schedule data in a very specific format, Nizlek explains. The process includes gathering GPS coordinates for every last stop and updating how the agency stores its route data.

"What I did over a period of months was I took the bus map and guide, took Excel and I handcoded each trip," Nizlek says. The result was a bundle of data that Nizlek submitted to Google back in December. A few months after that, Google and the CCTA went back and forth hashing out the minutaie, down to confirming each stop's name and each route's designated color. Now, it's finally ready.

If you live outside of Chittenden or Addison counties, fear not. The Agency of Transportation is spearheading an effort to get Vermont's smaller, rural transit agencies integrated with Google Maps, according to Ross MacDonald, the state's public transit coordinator.

"We have a lot of small providers with just a few employees," MacDonald says. "The state will participate by bringing that technology experience and knowledge to get the state up and running [on Google Transit]." The AOT will also help communicate with Google to get schedule and route changes updated when they occur, MacDonald says. (And don't forget about Go Vermont's programs to help commuters save money and be a little greener.)

If you're hoping for, say, a smartphone app with live CCTA bus tracking, you'll have to wait a little longer. "It is something we're very excited about doing, but it is a couple years out," Nizlek says. "Right now we're consumed with the downtown transit center." Once those plans are solidified, Nizlek says to expect more progress on realtime bus info.

In the meantime, the CCTA is pressing on with more tech improvements. A few more kinks still need to be worked out, including the fact that some of the route lines appear to fly through the sky rather than follow the roads. And local developers, your turn to play is coming up: Nizlek says that the agency expects to open up its schedule data on its website later this year.

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