Snowy Sounder

In an effort to improve your commute using digital tools, the City and Commute Seattle are sponsoring Hack the Commute this weekend:

The City of Seattle and Commute Seattle invite data analysts, developers, designers, and other innovators to help design user-centric tools that improve the commute. These can take the form of:

  • improvements to existing applications
  • new tools to help commuters in any mode or modes of transportation
  • data analysis and visualizations that clarify the big picture

Teams will have the opportunity to present their work to a panel of judges, with the top three project ideas moving on to a championship round. Work will be judged based on its potential to make commuting in Seattle easier and more pleasant for everyone.

Several STB folks will be there over the course of the weekend.  The event itself is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the demos on Sunday evening.  Got ideas for a great app? Go to the Reddit thread or leave them in the comments below.

22 Replies to “Hack the Commute This Weekend”

  1. I’ve only used One Bus Away a little, but one thing that PDXBus has that I have not been able to find on OBA:

    Arrival alarm. Set it so that it goes off a certain number of minutes before the bus/train gets to the stop/station.

    1. I would like to see OneBusAway get more sophisticated in its travel-time estimates. For freeway-running express buses, it should be able to plug into the WSDOT traffic server and refine its estimates based on real-time traffic conditions. Anyone who has ever tried to take the 555 from Montlake to Northgate or the 424 from Woodinville to Monroe will understand this.

      It would also be nice if OBA could provide a disclaimer for chronically unreliable routes when the bus is more than a few minutes away that the arrival prediction might be wildly off (OBA isn’t magic; it can’t know what delays the bus will hit between where it is now and when it gets to your stop, but it can know the general reliability of buses that take that stretch every day).

    2. OBA already has a reminder feature, at least on Android. Just tap the trip you want and pick “Set a reminder.” You can then select the reminder time, set any recurring days (it defaults to one-time), and optionally name the reminder.

      1. Thanks. I hadn’t found that. Nice that they made it so it is a repeating alarm. I’ve not been able to figure out if/how PDXBus does that.

      2. Unfortunately the iPhone version does not have this feature. It is currently ranked as the number one request on the OneBusAway Future Directions feature requests with 106 votes.

      3. Wait, you mean there’s a feature in the Windows Phone app (my phone calls it ‘notify me’) that’s not in the IPhone app? This must be a first.

    3. I’d love to be able to view multiple stops at the same time. It would be especially useful for transit centers with multiple bays that are each technically their own stop. I can take four buses home from Campus Parkway, and it would be nice to view them all at once.

      1. I’d second being able to view groups of stops. Going downtown or to the U District from Broadway & Olive it would be nice to watch the 43 and the 49 at the same time. As long as there still is a 43, that is.

        The best improvement, of course, would still be real time data that can actually be relied on. I’ve waited at stops where OBA has told me the bus is coming, and then departed, without said bus ever appearing in the real world…

      2. This is super low-hanging fruit. You basically have to string together a bunch of route / stop-ids in a URL and provide a convenient way for people to pick them.

        someone do this, preferably for windows phone.

      3. Windows Phone and Blackberry as the first platforms? I’ll hope for Android and Iphone first. A community so focused on putting buses where the riders are should appreciate the same for mobile phone users!

      4. For transit centers, I would actually argue that simply listing all the bays as one big stop is less confusing than a separate stop for each bay.

    4. I hope someone takes this opportunity to write a patch that compensates for Metro’s increasingly egregious schedule padding, e.g. buses coming down 24th NW shown as 4 extra minutes away from Ballard and Market until the moment they arrive at the Market turn signal, at which point those minutes magically disappear.

      Presently, if checking a few minutes in advance, not knowing to mentally compensate will cause you to miss your 40 every single time, day or night.

      Because Metro has been so uncooperative on the padding matter, this may require crowd-sourcing known padding points, or scouring stop-by-stop run-schedule data to identify the places where Metro has inserted 3-5 minutes into a single city block.

  2. How about service alerts? I don’t know how many times I’ve been standing at a stop and the bus (or train) never comes – and there is no information available about why.

  3. Inbound (tail-lights lit rather than headlight) calls to mind yesterday afternoon and evening’s bulletins. Which really show it’s time for the most useful app yet:

    A real-time audio and video feed to BNSF control, somewhere in Texas, I think, where Sounder delays are being discussed with some dramatic excitement before and during, as opposed to after, they happen.

    Bet nobody says: “Holy..(deleted)..! Somebody better get that signal turned before there’s an ISSUE out of railroad history!”

    Though most delays, thankfully, really do involve events disastrous only to people’s patience after a day of office issues.

    Control room staff might start to wonder why there seems to be an increasing population of pet cats walking across the instruments since the video cameras got installed.

    But given events like last night, not much time to worry about it. Besides. Isn’t there a story book somewhere about a heroic kitten saving huge cost of a bus bridge to Auburn by flicking a toggle with its tail?


    1. Not sure how that would help?

      I was on the train that was involved in the incident. The conductor informed everyone on the train with-in about 5 minutes of stopping that there had been an incident on the tracks, which is was going to cause significant delays and expect to stopped for at least an hour to 1.5 hrs.

      Looking at the time stamp on the Sounder alert emails, the first service alert email was out at 5.47pm, this was with-in 20 minutes of it happening.

      Sound Transit actually did a very good job of providing updates.

      1. Thanks. Missed the news this morning. Apologies for being flippant. Information not to blame for anything here.

        I often take Sounder up from Lakewood or Tacoma several times a week. Haven’t personally experienced any inconvenience- let alone a tragedy.

        But the real problem, best reserved for more than one posting, is the absolute vulnerability of our regional service, rail and bus both, to delays caused by very few vehicles, or individual people.

        Since fall 2001, public things have been deluged with money and uniformed personnel in the name of “security”. Fortunately, dogs too.

        Quotes because the worst public threats come from events police can’t prevent. Including deliberate sabotage. Whatever the cause, measures like fully-reserved and grade separated rights of way for all transit vehicles would definitely save lives regardless of nature of threat.

        Now, for transit-oriented smart-phone apps, most valuable measure for both safety and efficiency would be an app swiftly notifying users of an emergency anywhere in the system…

        And opening two-way contact with the authorities directing the passenger public, including the medically trained, where and how to move in and help.

        9-11. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Oso mudslide. Given information and direction, Americans will quickly coordinate themselves into action without a single order from any authority.

        Possibly proving the anarchists right about level of need for Government itself. But definitely our country’s real Homeland Security.

        Mark Dublin

      2. All good Mark.

        I use the Sounder every day from Puyallup into Seattle and back for work, moved to Puyallup about 4 months ago, so I’m pretty new to using Sounder and Pierce Transits buses.

        Id like to see more effort put into the buses aligning with the train timetable better.

        As for avoiding delays, in some places I have seen dedicated bus lanes which are physically separated from regular traffic by a barrier or take a more direct between transit hubs.

        As for the train (Sounder), the only way for it to avoid hitting things that shouldn’t be there, would be to build an elevated track for it. Probably an expensive idea.

        Personally email alerts are all I need. But I can see an app with real time data would be handy for the bus system where they face much more variability on their route.

  4. I’m no programmer, but my 2 cents are that the KC Metro Trip Planning app UI is ugly, slow, dated, and clunky. Metro should scrap the whole app and merge its functionality into OneBusAway (whose UI is not perfect by any means, but is 100x more modern and user friendly).

  5. PDXbus has a decent trip planner interface. When it lists the results you can tap the various steps of the step by step procedure it returns and switch to the arrival time display for that stop.

  6. What about default stops?

    Again a feature of PDXBus: you can set the defaults so that when, eg you first start it on a weekday morning, it shows your chosen stop for weekday mornings automatically.

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