TriMet makes data available for third-party apps

Posted on July 17, 2009

Portland, Ore.-based TriMet launched its online app center Thursday making schedule and route data available to developers, and allows passengers access to dozens of web and phone applications.

These situations are easy to navigate thanks to more than 25 web and phone applications developed in the past few years to aid transit users in the Portland metro area. From PDX Bus to Google Transit to iTransitBuddy, numerous choices for mobile tools geared toward transit riders are available primarily due to TriMet's open source philosophy. TriMet makes its data such as routes, schedules, stops and arrival times, available to any developer who might be interested in writing an application for the web or mobile devices.

"TriMet has really taken the lead among transit agencies around the country with its open data philosophy and willingness to share trip and schedule data with developers," said Fred Hansen, TriMet general manager. "It's a position that is paying off as demonstrated by the growing number of innovative tools available to help make transit more simple and convenient for our riders."

The third-party apps provide a variety of information to improve the rider's experience. The applications include trip planning, maps, bus and rail schedules, GPS location of the nearest stops, trip planning via text messaging and saving planned trips. One application called iNap even alerts the sleepy rider that their stop is coming up.

"There are so many useful, smart tools being developed", said Carolyn Young, TriMet's executive director of Communications and Technology. "We don't have the resources to create these tools ourselves, and there are certainly ideas we haven't seen before or even thought about."

Some examples of available applications:

    * PDX Bus: displays arrival times, allows a user to bookmark frequently used stops, displays recently accessed stops and gives details for arrivals that are en route. It also works with Google maps, showing locations of stops, and when available, the last known position of the bus or train. Formatted for the iPhone.
    * Dadnab: provides public transit directions/trip planning via text messaging
    * iBus: searches for nearest stops, provides arrival information and displays a map
    * POI Factory: provides points of interest (POI) files of TriMet stops through GPS devices
    * trainlogic.net: displays schedule information for trains on a Blackberry

Many of the applications are available for download directly from the developers, while others are available through sites such as iTunes or Android. While most of the third-party applications are free, some developers charge a small amount. 

TriMet has created some very successful applications itself including an interactive map and TransitTracker. TransitTracker by phone, which provides real-time stop arrivals for all buses and trains, receives about 1.4 million calls a month.

Developers access TriMet's data through a developer resources section on trimet.org. TriMet doesn’t endorse any of the applications, but does post what is available and the source on its website for others to see.

TriMet began making its data available when it approached Google in 2005, and soon after the first third-party app using TriMet data–Google Transit–was born. This transit trip planning feature on Google Maps is now available for cities and transit systems around the globe. TriMet's data was organized in an accessible, usable format for Google's use, which resulted in the development of the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a data-sharing format that has been adopted as the standard across the country.

"We have organized our data to make it easier for developers to use. Now that effort is paying off many times over with new innovations," said Young. "We share with others and get back benefits that everyone can access. We're seeing–and our riders are experiencing–how sharing our data has positively impacted the way people use transit."

To view the applications go to trimet.org and click on “TriMet App Center” at the bottom of the home page.

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