A few months ago, I shared with Seattle Transit Blog readers a side project of mine—the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. This quickly became much bigger than I ever expected it to, with several local news outlets picking up the story, including the Seattle Times.
It became very clear to me that we all need better transit data, and that I’m well-equipped to help with that. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve been up to since then, and where I’m going next.
The name “Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker” was only meant to describe a single, mostly-static project. Given its growth and the fact that there’s now a more defined future ahead of it, it’s time to create and grow a real brand for a real product. The tracker will now be known as Pantograph—just like the part of an electric train that connects it to power, Pantograph connects riders and agencies to vital information about the transit system. To reflect the name change, the web version is now located at www.pantographapp.com. I’d also encourage you to follow the associated Twitter account for updates and support: @Pantograph_App
Today’s biggest announcement is a brand new iPhone app, now available on the App Store. This is quite similar to the web version as you know it, but built from the ground up to look, feel, and behave like it belongs on iOS.
The filtering system has been revamped to support selection of an arbitrary number of parameters. For instance, while you could previously filter by just one route, you can now select any number you want, and even further constrain by more detailed information such as model of bus serving those routes. Of particular interest to agencies, the Schedule Adherence filter allows you to define a specific range of schedule deviation to show, in addition to just early/on-time/late/very late as I’ve defined them. Configured filters can be saved as a preset and recalled later, allowing you to quickly access different views of the map.
Accessibility features, such as VoiceOver and Dynamic Type, are also supported. If you’re a person who depends on these features, please don’t hesitate to share feedback—it’s important to me to build apps accessible to all users.
Pantograph for iOS is a free download on the App Store. Access to the filtering system requires a Pantograph Pro subscription, which costs just $0.99/month or $9.99/year (both options come with a one-week free trial). This pricing model helps support continued investment of my time, energy, and money into building Pantograph’s future. As an added thank you to Pro subscribers, this also unlocks the ability to choose from a variety of alternate app icons. I’m giving away codes for a one-month subscription to three random STB readers—leave a comment below to be considered (but please note if you don’t have an iPhone or aren’t in the area, so the code may go to someone who does/is).
While today is mostly about maturing as a product, I also wanted to throw something new in the mix—assignment tracking. Pantograph keeps track of which vehicles it sees on which routes, and makes this information available in three views: By route, by individual vehicle, or by vehicle series. This allows you to see which models of vehicles get assigned to which routes and vice versa, as well as the specific coach number that served each trip. In addition to being interesting—I learned that the route most likely to be served by a Community Transit Double Tall is 415 at 96% of trips, and have been keeping an eye on new vehicles entering service/old ones retiring—this helps agencies quickly find vehicles and helps riders choose routes. If your usual route is crowded and typically served by a 40-foot bus, and an alternate route is served by a 60-footer, wouldn’t you give it a try?
For King County Metro and Community Transit, I also infer what base a vehicle is assigned to based on the route it last served. When viewing a series of vehicles, you can also see how many are at each base.
For now, assignment tracking data is only available on the web version; I wanted to get the basics down first for the iOS app before adding new features. This should come before the end of the year. An update is also planned to come alongside the release of iOS 13 in September, which will take advantage of the new system-wide dark mode.
After this release, however, my focus will shift to analyzing the mass amounts of transit data I collect every day. Particularly, I’m interested in near-real-time performance analysis. The details of what this means are yet to be determined, but could include on-time performance, missed trips, identification of frequent slow-down areas, and more.
I’d also like to start working more closely with transit agencies. I think a lot of the work I’m doing here has potential to help in all sorts of departments—planning, of course, could benefit from performance metrics; customer service folks already benefit from an easy-to-use interface to find buses and identify delays—and a more formal relationship would ensure we’re helping each other as efficiently as possible. Feel free to get in touch if you can help out here.
Questions, comments, and feedback are, of course, welcome in the comments below!