One Bus Away is powered by Metro's GTFS feed.

We reported last week that the innovated Walk Score website had added support for valuing transit access, but didn’t mention that this feature wasn’t available here in Seattle. Why’s that? King County Metro hadn’t provided open access to it’s transit data and instead required each project to be approved on a case-by-case basis.

That’s slowly changing. Metro has began releasing its GTFS (Google Transit Feed Specification) data to developers who sign a disclaimer without individual project approval. Eventually, access to this data should be even easier.

“The goal is a click through agreement that permits the development community direct access to our data,” said Stephen Krippner, a program manager in Metro’s IT department. “We obviously are not there yet, but we are headed that direction.”

Metro has been doing some sweeping efforts to improve its relations with third-party developers, including hosting a workshop last month. Other agencies in the region could stand to learn from Metro’s efforts. Metro itself could stand to learn from Portland’s Tri-Met which requires neither a disclaimer nor a click-through agreement to access its developer resources transparently.

The GTFS data is the same information that powers the Google Maps transit functionality and third-party apps like One Bus Away. Developers interested in accessing the GTFS data should contact Stephen Krippner at

10 Replies to “Metro Begins to Open Transit Feed Data”

  1. Can anyone tell me why Metro is so far behind when it comes to technology and usability, especially when compared to our neighbours in Vancouver and Portland? Is it just a general lack of capability in their tech dept or is it the usual government overhead?

    Seems to me that given the advanced high-tech industry in the region we should be able to parter with some great companies and get ourselves some amazing web-tools. Hell, we’ve all seen Oran’s maps that he makes for fun and they absolutely blow Metro’s out of the water. I refuse to belive it’s an issue of funding when I see what truly capable people like he can do in their spare time.

    Metro should ditch their tech/marketing team and just contract it out to TransLink. They’ve got an official iPhone App, a great transit planner, beauiful and useful maps… Puts Metro to absolute shame.

    1. I think that we all are critical of Metro and for good reason, BUT I have to say that over the last year or so Metro has made meaningful steps in the right direction. Historically in the late 1990’s Metro was on the forefront of transit ITS but since then has fallen behind it’s peers, and way behind european standards.

      There are two complicating factors. The first is technology. This is evident with metro’s tracking system which is a legacy system (signpost post). Only a few other cities in the US have a system like this, but that is because Metro were the first to get it. Metro right now is in the midst of installing the new system (which by the way they haven’t really publicized). When this happens Metro will have GSP tracking and on bus stop annunciation and reader boards ( which should display route, direction and the next stop). Same problem occurs with stop schedules. The computer system is so old it can’t produce information in any other format.

      The second is institutional and from my perspective this is what has really changed. I think Metro is slowly learning (and definitely being pushed) to be more open and provide a higher quality service. No longer is it just enough to put more buses on the street.

      1. Let me comment on GPS tracking. Too many people think that GPS will solve all problems. It won’t.

        Currently, there are two data channels (I believe they’re 4800 baud). One for even numbered coaches, one for odd. Except when the operator is on a voice call, the radio is tuned to the data channel, listening for requests from the “master controller.” Every 90-120 seconds the controller sends a request out for a each in-service coach requesting it to update its location. The coach then replies with its number, last signpost passed, and odometer reading (and I think there are a couple of other pieces of information, but they’re not important here).

        The new radio system is still going to have just two channels, and I can’t remember the speed. This means you’re still limited to 90 second updates. You can’t go much lower than 90 seconds, because during peak period there are near 1,300 coaches in service. Divide that by two, and you’re looking at between 5 and 7 coaches updating every second. The LMRS system they’re using just can’t do much more.
        So why not contract it out and do it over 3G/EDGE/EVDO/etc? That’s a question I can’t really answer, but I do know that 1) those systems still have their limitations 2) they also have dead spots 3) there’s a mothly/annual fee associated with EACH coach 4) if the provider’s network goes down, Metro is at the mercy of the provider and essentially has no data until it comes back up.
        I’d guess that #4 and #3 are the two biggest reasons. Metro, along with King County, each have their own radio shop with skilled technicians that can fix the system in a matter of hours.

      2. Also forgot to make another point about signpost VS GPS:
        The current signpost system is excellent for tracking coaches that are on-route. If you know you were at point X 45 seconds ago and you’ve traveled 1.2 miles since then and you’re on-route, you know exactly where you are without the need for GPS.

        If you go off route, the coach will keep updating with the odometer reading, and before it hits 3 off-route signposts, the system will think it’s still on route. Take for example any downtown route. Say 3rd avenue is completely blocked between Pike and Marion. If a coach turns east or west to access a parallel street, that’s included in the odometer readings which will skew your predicted arrival results. So yes, signpost is bad for reroutes–snow especially.

        One major drawback of GPS is that it requires a clear view of the sky. That means places like the tunnel or even the surface streets of the CBD are bad. This is solved in the tunnel by having RFID readers at the beginning/end of each bore to read the RFID tag on each coach that passes through. I wouldn’t be surprised if the signposts lived on in areas like these.

    2. Metro may be behind in some things, but it has made huge strides over the years which show its directors have the right goals. It just doesn’t have enough money to fulfill them, so they get implemented piecemeal whenever funds are avalable. Some examples:

      * Crosstown routes added: 8, 75, 30/31 (Fremont part), 48 (added frequency). These have become immensely popular. A West Seattle – Rainier route was tried too, although it failed.

      * All-day express to Northgate: 41.

      * Consolidate UW expresses: 71/72/73.

      * 15-minute frequency added to several trunk routes: 36, 49, 15/18.

      * Limited-stop routes (not quite express): 358, 120.

      * Turn over I-90 and 405 corridors to Sound Transit. The 550+230 replaced an hourly 226 going from Overlake to Seattle, with several stops in south Bellevue and Mercer Island. Several local and express routes replaced the 340, which went roughly on 405 from Burien to Aurora Village, and was often a long walk from people’s destinations.

      * Trolley buses.

  2. I have one issue with the the feed data as it is currently used on Google Maps. I tried planning a Link light rail trip from Westlake to Othello on my iPod touch. It tells me to “Take 599” not Central Link light rail and “Get off 599 At ST Light Rail & Othello Station (SB)”. The directions don’t tell me to go to Westlake Station since it assumes the stop is on the surface. And 599 is not even a real route number for Metro.

    It thinks Link light rail is a bus line! unlike Vancouver and Portland which have their rail lines properly coded as such, even with special colors. So the Link light rail route is undistinguishable from a normal bus route and its stations are displayed on the map as bus stops, not rail stations.

  3. King County Metro … required each project to be approved on a case-by-case basis

    Incorrect. Metro did, and still does, require users to sign a liability disclaimer to access the data. They don’t seem to care what you do with it, and request developers to send them links to their completed applications. I’ve had access to the data long before the GTFS format was released, and nobody asked me what project I was working on.

    I think another reason that might contribute towards Metro’s (relative) lag in this area is the fact that they had no idea what developers wanted. They seemed somewhat surprised that developers would be interested in years of historical on-time data (and also seemed a little reluctant to release it). One of the things they wanted out of the workshop was to know all the things that developers wanted so that they would be sure to include them, and to prioritize the most important ones.

  4. Yeah, let’s pick on Pierce Transit for a little while instead of Metro. The parts of Federal Way that are Metro have the little bus icons all over Google Maps but the Pierce Transit parts don’t. When I asked about a map of Pierce Transit last year, they started blah-blah-blahing about SOAP and incompatible file-types and proprietary information. Like really non-customer friendly techy stuff that really didn’t answer the question.

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