Thanks to some unexpected free time these last few months, Pantograph is now available for three agencies in two new regions—our neighbors at TransLink of greater Vancouver, TriMet of Portland, and Lane Transit District of Eugene. 

Pantograph works in these new cities just as it does today in Puget Sound. Features include real-time mapping of vehicle positions, logging of coach/route assignments, detection of unusual coach/route assignments, tracking vehicle movements between bases, a missed trips dashboard—and so much more. TriMet is the first (and currently only) supported agency that also reports coach occupancy information, which is available in the app, though it appears at time of writing that they’ve disabled this temporarily.

To explore transit in these regions, simply go to the mobile-friendly website or download the iOS app. From there, you can pan over to the city on the map or manually select it from the header (web) or the Settings tab (iOS).

Since launching over a year ago here at STB, Pantograph has evolved significantly beyond its original capabilities: In August, I released the iOS app and new brand, followed shortly by the full rollout of assignment history, and the missed trip dashboard launched as transit cuts began in March. But the biggest changes yet came silently about a month ago—behind the scenes, it’s basically an all-new app. The server-side tooling that powers the service has been completely rewritten, making everything more efficient, accurate, and—most importantly—extendable. Adding a new region or agency can be as simple as adding a few configuration files, provided they have a compatible GTFS feed and a real-time API to complement it. 

18 Replies to “Pantograph transit tracker now available in Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR”

  1. STB, this looks like an excellent program. Could we please have an introduction?

    Mark Dublin

  2. Kona, I’ve been wishing our high schools and community colleges could start getting involved with our regional transit program at all levels, especially technical and political.

    Have you got anything going with any of them? Or is this just really about getting Link to Marysville? If it is, you should definitely get elected to the school board. Best of luck!

    Mark Dublin

  3. With all this easy data about real time vehicle positions, it would be nice if there were some automated mechanism in place to make minor schedule adjustments every few weeks to keep scheduled travel times in sync with reality.

    Instead of playing this guessing game, wondering whether or not the bus driver will artificially slow down the bus to match an overly padded schedule, just let the bus driver drive and adjust the schedule to match. Similarly, of there’s a point in the route that consistently takes longer than what the schedule says, the schedule can be adjusted the other way.

    With service cuts looming in September, there should be opportunities out there for some routes to run the same schedule with fewer buses, just by reducing unnecessary padding time. An automated system to adjust travel times would help make such changes easier.

    1. Sorry, asdf2, you’re wrong about this. Timepoints should be honored so that “clockface” headways can be maintained throughout the run. If buses don’t “lay for time” then people can’t memorize the time that buses will pass their stop. They become slaves to the phone and smartphones are quite honestly a pain in the butt with their lousy battery life.

      1. Memorizing timetables may have been useful in the pre-smartphone age, but the need to do that is mostly obsolete. I haven’t bothered to memorize my neighborhood’s bus routes’ timetables in years, and I’m sure many others haven’t either.

        A bus route that is artificially time-padded so you can guarantee exactly when it goes by every stop will, by nature, be a very slow bus route. Essentially, the only way to do that is to make the bus run at the speed of the worst possible traffic conditions, every single day, even when the roads are empty. Worse, if the spacing of every trip is to be consistent, all day long, you’ve got to apply rush-hour travel times to the all-day schedule, otherwise, buses that are spaced 30 minutes apart at the route start might be 25 minutes apart (after rush hour just ended) or 35 minutes apart (after rush hour just started).

        If we’re trying to compete with driving, we at least need buses that can move at the speed of cars as much as possible, with any additional delay only the bare minimum necessary to load and unload passengers.

        Some other tidbits:
        1) You also have a lot of bus routes where a whole bunch of people get on downtown and the bus gradually empties as the bus progresses, but almost nobody gets on outside of downtown. So, what you’re proposing is artificially delaying a whole busload of people to provide slightly more consistent arrival times for one or two people, who could easily figure out when the bus is going to come anyway, just by pulling out their phones and checking OneBusAway.

        2) Adding padding time to the schedule costs $$ because it means you need more buses in circulation to run the route at a given frequency. During a period of austerity, reducing the padding matters much less to customers than reducing service frequency.

        All that said, there are a few special situations where a mid-route timepoint where buses stop and wait can be the right thing to do. In particular, it can sometimes be the only way to guarantee reliable transfers between two infrequent routes. But, that case is more of the exception than the rule.

      2. Memorizing the scheduled time does you no good when the bus is late due to some incident enroute to your stop. That’s pretty much the exact reason why realtime tracking was invented.

        Charge your device before you leave home

      3. “Memorizing timetables may have been useful in the pre-smartphone age, but the need to do that is mostly obsolete.”

        And I don’t want to carry around a smartphone or see everything become dependent on them. They’re big so they take more space in your pocket than a dumbphone, their touchscreens are inconvenient to use, and it’s letting a few companies insert themselves as middlemen since they require a cell provider, large data plan. app store through one central company, and a partial oligarchy of app providers (one of which runs the app store). I had a smartphone but when it broke I went back to a dumbphone. It fits better in my pocket, lasts two or three weeks on a single charge (or a three-hour call), and I use it once or twice a week.

        The solution to both asdf2’s and my concerns is ubiquidous frequency and reliability. Then it wouldn’t matter if you don’t have the schedule on hand.

        A clockface schedule is worthwhile. However, in a pinch, frequency is more important. Erratic, smartphone-dependent schedules should be a last resort. Even if buses are often late and don’t stick to schedule. On many routes they’re predictably late: some routes are punctual, others are often 5-10 minutes late, others are almost always 10-20 minutes late between certain hours. People can memorize that along with the schedule.

      4. others are often 5-10 minutes late, others are almost always 10-20 minutes late between certain hours.

        I think that’s asdf’s point. If it’s always late, just update the schedule to reflect the new normal.

      5. Just for clarity, I don’t advocate consistency as the bus “goes by every stop”. Of course there will be some variation between the timepoints. Regular riders know to give a couple to five minutes’ cushion arriving at the stop depending how close they are to the next timepoint. And I wasn’t saying “never adjust the schedule”, though certainly don’t do it on a whim. If a line is trending slower and slower of course the schedule needs to be changed to fit reality and, “Yes, people have to relearn it.”

        Finally, Mike is right; frequency is the answer so the schedule is unimportant, but for the next few years it will be too expensive an answer to implement on any but the highest-ridership routes.

  4. Kona, this looks like exactly the knowledge that passengers desperately need to negotiate a transit world where accurate real-time information is as scarce as it is priceless. Doesn’t help any that all the screwed-up recordings blame it on innocent COVIDS.

    Unfortunately, my own transit-driving days-and my 1945 birth date- have left my knowledge a lot more factual than virtual, so bear with me. What’s the mechanism for gathering vehicle location information? Many thanks.

    For power collection, I’m definitely pro-pantograph. Had the lifetime honor of being appointed to the Joint Union-Management Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, which took an active part in equipment design for the dual-power buses that were the first step in our creation of the regional electric rail system we could not afford to build whole.

    I know the engineers looked at designing us a two-contact pantograph that would serve the negative wire every rubber-tired trolleybus requires. Which, like trolleypoles, would have had to be raised for electric mode, and dropped to the roof for the highway. Would’ve needed a pivot at the base for changing lanes.

    Remember seeing 19th century photographs of trolley buses that were actually former-horse-drawn coaches (literally) on hard rubber tires, that really did have two contacts at the top of a single pole. In Toronto and San Francisco, also saw trolleybuses and pre-1950’s streetcars share positive wire. Management thinking probably was that when we went to rail, increased train voltage would send whole bus fleet to finish their career on surface streets.

    Which actually did happen, though I think the trains took ten years longer to arrive than planned. The Breda dual power fleet bad beyond imagining. Lucky for us, for our joint-use phase, since Breda at least gave us a strong electric motor, they were ok on the streets as planned. Tunnel? New Flyer hybrid buses, which did not exist when we started digging, ’til recently accompanied the trains.

    For anything rubber tired, batteries and plug-ins are probably panto-doom. BUT:

    ‘Til your election to the school board finally brings Link to Marysville, ST 512 doesn’t have to pollute the north wind forever! And come to think of it, can’t your program also trace pan-runnin’ trucks for the Swedes?

    Mark Dublin

  5. Sort of off topic, but took link light rail today for the first time in four months. Train was mostly empty, but very dirty. I’m glad I had hand sanitizer with me. Weren’t the headway cuts necessary to ensure clean trains?! Kind of disappointed with the experience today. Not sure I’d ride again. They need to get their act together before next year’s extension opening.

      1. Interesting, I took it north from Westlake at around 1145am. Well…. if ridership is up, I hope we can get 20 minute headways on weekends soon.

    1. Couldn’t be sharper “ON” topic, Alex. What makes today’s posting so valuable is that its author’s program deals so precisely with the fact that at this date and time, “Reality” itself “identifies” not by the week (let alone a couple of them) but by the minute.

      I spent these last three days watching four young recently-hired wi-fi service employees save my sanity from their employer’s systemwide blanket screw-up. My “take?” The eyes, hands, knowledge and experience best kept off-site….can we put them at screens and keyboards that can handle by remote-control the work of placing passengers aboard vehicles in time-at-its-realest?

      Quite possibly the perfect job for exactly the trained, skilled, and experienced operating people whom low passenger loads and possible health questions have now put out of work. Which will also do volumes to address the violence that raging unemployment is inflicting on our economy with no end in sight.

      Since he’s still so undeservingly unknown, I’m willing to risk the chance that Kona Farry really is only running for Marysville School Board as a ploy to make that be Link’s next terminal. But having experienced what Hell unintended Spine-defense can deliver, could we please invite him to a virtual greeting-party?

      Because if Marysville voters won’t employ him……..Lake Washington Tech Student Government might not force any Funeral Services at all into his future job description.

      Mark Dublin

  6. Kona – I love the app. The features and data supplied help feed my odd desire to understand the logistics of the system that I didn’t even know was possible. Thanks.

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