The project was developed with $200,000 in financial support received through the Quebec government.  -  Photo: SMT/Transit

The project was developed with $200,000 in financial support received through the Quebec government.

Photo: SMT/Transit

In collaboration with Transit, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) announced it is rolling out a new tool for viewing current detours in the bus network. 

The new AI-based feature is now available in Beta on the homepage of the mobile and desktop versions of the STM website, as well as in the Transit app

Customers can use it to better plan their trips by viewing alternate routes and temporary and relocated stops.

In the STM and Transit Tool Belt

The project was developed with $200,000 in financial support received through the Quebec government call for projects titled Soutien aux projets de démonstration et de vitrine technologique pour l’industrie du transport terrestre et de la mobilité durable, as part of the Innovation program, which is managed by Investissement Québec.

Stephen Miller, communications lead at Transit, said the company and STM have partnered for years even before the news of this new tool.

“We're constantly in touch with them on a variety of projects,” Miller said. “For years, the team at Transit wanted to build a detour detector but we needed an agency partner to help us confirm its accuracy, to know whether the detoured routes and temporary stops our algorithms would detect were reflecting what the experts on the ground were actually seeing.”

Transit added that one of the goals of this program is to support initiatives from Quebec-based companies that could have an impact beyond the borders of Quebec. 

“It was really a perfect fit. In a sense, the stars aligned,” Miller said. “Although detours are a universal problem, Montreal has more bus detours than any other city we serve: about one in six routes are affected by detours at any given time. So we teamed up with the STM, got the backing of the Quebec government for this project, and are rolling it out first in Montreal.”

The new tool allows customers to locate out-of-service stops and their corresponding temporary stops. 

STM customers can type their bus line number into the schedule search bar. The bus route will then be displayed in blue, with detours marked by a dotted line and out-of-service sections in red. If there are no red sections, the bus is running on its regular route.

In the Transit app, users can select their bus line and, if any detours or temporary stops are detected, they will be shown on the map.

“Detours happen. Sometimes they're planned; sometimes they're not. It's part of life. But until now, it's been hard for riders to know where their bus has been detoured, and most importantly, where their stop has moved,” Miller said. “This project fixes that problem. It's something no other app or tech company has done before.”

What the Future Holds

In a few weeks, STM said that app users will be invited to give feedback in a survey. They will also be able to submit comments in the Transit app.

After the trial period, the STM and Transit will analyze the feedback and assess the tool’s performance and the accuracy of the information presented. The results will provide insight to help the STM consider how to proceed with a potential launch of a finalized version of the feature.

“We encourage app users to open up our GO crowdsourcing feature while they ride since it provides up-to-the-second vehicle information that helps us more precisely detect when a bus is detoured and where it's making temporary stops along the detoured route,” Miller said. “We also have an easy "contact us" button in the app so that, if we misidentify a relocated stop or have incorrect detour information, riders can quickly send us debug information.”

Miller outlined how Transit will improve the detour detector.

“Right now, temporary stops on the map often don't have names; many of them just say 'temporary stop.' We'll be giving names to all temporary stops, based on street names and numbers,” Miller said. 

Transit will also add real-time predictions along a detoured route. For now, the company is only able to show a scheduled arrival time. 

“We're bus riders too, so we know that real-time countdowns are critical, and we'll be building it into future iterations of the detour detector,” Miller said. “We're constantly improving and evolving so there's more to come, but those are two of the most important things we'll be working on.”

As the company continues to develop the detour detector with the STM, the next step for Transit is to start working with other transit agencies to validate and deploy its detour detector in their cities, too.

Miller also shared how this new tool will impact the future of the public transit industry.

“It's important to know that this project isn't just about Transit and the STM. It's really about making real-time detour information more standardized and accessible across the entire industry, so it can benefit as many riders as possible,” Miller said. “We're an active member of the GTFS community, which works to improve and advance passenger-facing transit data. As part of that, we've put forward a proposal called TripModifications, which basically codifies this new detours data format we've developed so it can be used by all transit agencies.”

 Transit is using this new data format by sharing detour information back with the STM, which is using it to publish updated route maps on its website. 

Miller said there has been a lot of interest in moving this new data format forward, including from other companies like Swiftly that work with transit agencies.

About the author
Louis Prejean

Louis Prejean

Assistant Editor

Assistant editor Louis Prejean works on Metro Magazine and Automotive Fleet. The Louisiana native is now covering the fleet industry after years of radio and reporting experience.

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