By 2015, transit riders will be benefiting from real time information for Link, improved rider alerts and station signage, expanded fare payment options, and an improved multimodal Trip Planner, among other new technology improvements. The Sound Transit Board last month approved Phase 1 of the ST2 Research and Technology program with a budget of $9 million.

Plans for Phase 1 are described in the Strategic Plan for Transit Rider Technology. I was overwhelmed with excitement when I first read though the plan, thinking it was new news but actually, this has been part of Sound Transit 2 all along.

An important feature of the plan is embracement of user-centered design principles at an institutional level. Hopefully, that will result in services and products that are easy to understand and use.

Other than the list of projects, summarized after the jump, the plan includes a “Transit Rider Technology Needs Assessment”, a compilation of what key people at Sound Transit and King County Metro think transit riders (and the agencies) need in terms of technology. I am glad that many of them agree that there is plenty of room for improvement and have suggested ideas similar to those presented on this blog.

Four major groups of projects are planned to be implemented during Phase 1, which runs through 2015. The first group involves establishing a regional repository for real-time and static transit data from all agencies in the region, with processes to ensure the data is of good quality. The repository supports other data-driven projects like the trip planner and real time Link & Sounder arrival information. It will also make that data publicly accessible through a Developer Portal for third-party applications.

The second group involves improved rider tools. The Trip Planner will become multimodal, which allows the combination of bicycle, walking, and transit trips in a single journey, and will integrate real time information on a map, like OneBusAway. An example of this is TriMet’s recently launched Map Trip Planner.

Flowchart of rider information and communication (ST)

Rider alerts will be improved. The report illustrates the presently complicated and manual process of alert dissemination: “To get an alert posted through all the available channels can take a person in the control center 15 minutes or more typing at four different computers and entering data into five or more systems. This leads to delays in getting critical messages out, inconsistency of messages across channels, and possible inaccuracies.” I have no doubt that this was a factor in the communications breakdown that left hundreds of Link riders in the dark.

The third group of projects aim to improve rider information at stations. The Ticket Vending Machine user interface will be redesigned using a “clean slate” approach to make it more user friendly. New digital signage showing next arrivals and service alerts will be tested, along with a centralized signage control system. Parking management technology and pricing will be studied, which would help Sound Transit determine the value of pricing parking based on demand.

The fourth group of projects will explore new fare payment options and ORCA enhancements. An open payment pilot would allow Link passengers to pay their fare using their contactless credit card like an ORCA card. The ORCA card could potentially be used to pay for parking and bike lockers. A non-smartphone based online ticketing system (like Stockholm’s) would be studied. Finally, exploration of options to change the ORCA website by bringing its management in house, a mobile app to reload cards, and a system for ORCA-related alerts.

25 Replies to “Link Real Time Info and Other Rider Tools in the Works”

  1. p. 45: “Need to work with bloggers and other groups to get their input, especially with regard to technology
    ideas (JE).” Heh.

    1. Hi

      We are planning to work with bloggers/developer community to understand needs. I am the IT Manager for the whole program and would be interested in knowing who would be interested in being involved in the conversation.


      1. Just to clarify, I wasn’t making fun of it or anything like that. I was just amused that the paragraph might have actually been referring to this very blog.

  2. Great news.

    Not completely off topic: I’ve found that I’m most in need of help in the tunnels. Without cell phone service I can’t access OBA, so I have no idea if that bus I’m waiting for will ever show up. Are there any plans to add OBA screens in the tunnel, or are they hoping to show all of the dozens of buses that use the tunnel on those little displays? Any chance they can install cell repeaters in the tunnels?

    1. I’d prefer cell repeaters over OBA displays; I’ve lost count of the number of times coworkers have told me, or even had to say on conference calls, “I have to drop off, I’m heading down into the tunnel.” Besides these disruptions to business, I’d like to be able to continue to do my own things — email, texting, games — without interruption while waiting for or traveling upon a bus/train. Clearly the technology is there; look at BART.

      1. Even once the technology is there, please don’t conduct conference calls on the train. Your fellow passengers will be very grateful.

        Data would definitely be nice, though.

      2. The technology exists. All’s that’s needed is a carrier or two and some plug in hardware.

        Honestly I’d love it if they could set up the switches to disallow voice calls except for emergency services.

      3. I used to be annoyed by phones on transit… then I decided what really matters is if the volume is the same level as the rider would talk to a fellow passenger and if the topics are ones you would have in public.

  3. Real time for LINK and Sounder is the least useful as those run on a frequent schedule (Sounder during rush hour).

    More important is real time for buses. I have commented that mobile networks offer low cost channels for sending bits of data. Heck, you could even just track the bus drivers cell phone!

    1. Sounder runs on nothing like a frequent schedule. The closest schedule spacing between any two Sounder trains is 25 minutes, in the heart of the peak.

      Either way, you’re right that real-time arrival information for the buses is much more important than for the trains. If DSTT stations had real-time arrival information for buses on the outside of the station I’d know exactly how much to hurry or dawdle through the enormous mezzanines and multiple levels of stairs, and whether I should just grab a coffee and wait.

      1. “If DSTT stations had real-time arrival information for buses on the outside of the station I’d know exactly how much to hurry or dawdle through the enormous mezzanines and multiple levels of stairs, and whether I should …”

        … catch a bus in the tunnel on on the surface.

    2. We already have real time for buses.

      Presumably when they add Link times to the tunnel displays they’ll have bus times as well.

    3. mobile networks offer low cost channels for sending bits of data

      Yeah, at $20/month per vehicle, you’re looking at $346,320 per year for Metro’s fleet alone. Not to mention all the dead spots, or the fact that the county just spent millions on a new radio system (p4) of their own.

      1. The OBS/CCS Project includes all of the technology, except the new radio system, for vehicle tracking, revenue service management and near real-time customer information. Both the OBS and CCS parts of the Project will be implemented in concert with the new 700MHz radios and this combined implementation will migrate the KCM’s revenue fleet to the new, integrated systems.

        The OBS will provide Metro’s fixed-route vehicles with the next generation of on-board vehicle electronics and data systems. Using a new, integrated, multi-function computer and communications system, KCM’s buses have will have on-board capabilities that monitor and report on the operational and maintenance status of the bus, as well as its current location and schedule. The OBS will also be installed with and provide an Operator interface to the new mobile radios provided by the Transit Radio System Project.

        So now I’m thoroughly confused.

        Why is it that OBA is sometimes wrong if the buses all have these radios which can send location data?

      2. There are many comments about buses that show up in OBA, appear to reach their stop and leave but which, in reality, have never shown up. I myself have been inconvenienced several times waiting for one of these “phantoms”.

        When I pressed for an explanation, in fact, I think it was you who said that this is because the data isn’t truly “real time” but based on the bus reaching and registering with selected time points.

      3. That’s changed within the past few months. I know it’s strange to actually get what we want from a transit agency, but it does happen from time to time.

    4. I completely disagree… While you may be right that I don’t need to look at a schedule for planning ahead, I find it incredibly annoying that Link only tells me when the train is two minutes away. What other system does that? This is a customer service/customer frustration level thing. Do I have time to sit, pull something out of my bag, finish a snack/coffee before I board, etc. Not to mention how important this would be if we could get Metro/ST to allow vendors in the stations.

  4. For Link and Sounder, real time vehicle arrival predictions data are available but not currently in production. A prototype has been created to test access to and accuracy of this information. This system needs to be re-architected to bring it into a production configuration with proper security, and is being written in a more robust programming language.

    LOL, apparently Brian Ferris’ Java app is neither secure nor robust.

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