Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hard to do vs hard to figure out

I'd like to argue for a second that better websites might do more to stop global warming than hybrid cars....

Sometimes it's easier to just go with what you know than to try something new. Case in point - I was down in DC earlier this week, and even though I had a car and free parking at my final destination, I ended up taking the Metro to my workshop rather than driving - not because it was faster or cheaper, but just because it was easier. I understand the Metro; but I get lost driving around DC on my own. Likewise, when I first moved to the NYC area, I tended to walk or take cabs more frequently from point-to-point in Manhattan...then, after a I'd figured out the baroque and arcane subway system (and no longer found myself mysteriously deposited in Brooklyn at random intervals) I used it instead.

Now I live in Pittsburgh and one of the fringe benefits of my job is a free bus pass. So, I take the bus everywhere, right? Well, not really - I use a few routes I know, and drive most other places. The main obstacle, I think, is just not knowing what bus to take when. It's easier to drive. But that's changing...

Matt Hurst has a nice run-down of mapping systems that give information on public transit (or ways to walk instead of drive). Google transit also has a great system for Pittsburgh (and a handful of other cities). I think all that's really needed to make public transit more widely used is some tools like this, development of the BusML standard for route information, free municipal wifi and something to access it with that fits in my pocket.


Matthew Hurst said...

Unfortunately, it is hard to apply market forces to deliver optimizations where the measure is for the population not the individual.

See you (on the bus) at KDD.

Joe Hughes said...

Hi William,

I definitely agree that lack of information is a huge barrier for people who are considering taking public transit but don't know where to start or what to expect.

I don't think that the main barrier to better information is the lack of an exchange format—both the Google Transit Feed Spec (which I help develop) and TransXChange are reasonable options.

Rather, a big issue is that agencies haven't traditionally seen the value of sharing their information with outside developers. Fortunately, that seems to be changing—some agencies like TriMet and BART are starting to set up developer sites.

Anyway, if you're interested in this sort of thing, you might want to check out my Headway blog.

Claire Atkinson said...

This might seem like an unusual request, but I am an editor for Metro Magazine (, a trade magazine serving mass transit operators. I'm working on an article about why people do or don't ride transit and wondered if you would be willing to provide your input. (I found your blog through a search on Please contact me at if you are available.
Claire Atkinson

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