If you go to most cities these days, you can log on to your smart phone and find a bus app that will tell you where the closest bus stop is, when the next bus is coming and how long it will take you where you want to go. Not in Anchorage, but that is about to change, because of a contest put on by the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation.
“The yellow markers on Google maps are all the stops along route 3 and the next to them is the current time that the bus is supposed to arrive there at.”
That’s Brendan Babb explaining how his mobile public transportation application works. He is on the team of programmers that developed the smart phone app during the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s first annual Hackathon contest earlier this month. Babb took first place in the programming competition along with four other teammates for creating the app that will give real time data on Anchorage buses to riders using smart phones. The app combines Municipal bus data with Google maps to map information from quickest routes to delays. Babb, who’s day job is researching mars rover images for NASA at University of Alaska, Anchorage (UAA), says he came up with the idea for the bus app after using similar apps while traveling in other cities for work.
“I travel a lot giving talks at conferences in various cities and its really easy to use Google maps to find buses and take Bart and use other subways. And I often find that its a lot cheaper and a lot less stressful for me to just take transit to the conferences.”
But when he tried to find a similar service in Anchorage, he realized their was none.
“Right now there’s a bus icon and when you click on it, it says there’s no data.”
It’s the first time the AEDC has held the ‘Hack-a-thon’. More than a dozen coders showed up for the weekend event, which was held at UAA June 15th through the 17th. Babb won some small prizes, but the real award was attracting the interest of the Municipality, he says. The Municipal Department of transportation is working with Babb on developing the bus app further for its People Mover bus system.The municipality actually has real-time data on their website, where you can see the buses moving around on a web page. But Babb says it’s more oriented toward the desktop, so it’s hard to use on your phone. Babb worked with the municipality in advance of the ‘Hack-a-thon’ to line up the data his team would need.
“Basically the project was just getting data so that you can say I wanna go from Snow city to Providence hospital and it will figure out if you need to take two buses and when they come.”
The result was the bus app.
“It’s an extra advantage here in Alaska because when it’s 20 degrees, you don’t really want to be waiting for the bus too long.”
New research on the Chicago Transit system supports the use of transit apps. It says that real-time mobile transit applications improves ‘rider experiences’. And that better riders experiences translate into higher ridership, greater revenues for transit agencies, and less congestion on roadways. Lance Ahern is the chief information officer for the Municipality. He’ll be working with Babb to perfect the bus app for municipality over the next few months. Ahern says he hopes the bus app is just the beginning and that the AEDC’s next Hack-a-thon will spawn additional apps that use municipal data.
“Anything that lets me look at where I am on my smart phone and look at different kinds of services that are available to me, whether they’re health services, where to vote, information that can be combined with other data sources, so if I take some muni data and some google data and maybe some the weather data and kinda mash it up into a single useful app so I don’t have to go to many places, to me, that’s where we should be going.”
The runner up for the Hackathon was an application that improves the Alaska Department of Labor’s ‘Career Lattice’ program by connecting it with real-time job availability data. The Department of Labor is also working with the programmer who created that app, called ‘job thingy’, to make it live in a few months. Anchorage Economic Development Corporation Officials say they have high hopes for the tech industry in Alaska with the expansion of broadband Internet and because tech careers allow people to learn and work in the remote locations, where so many Alaskan’s choose to live. They say the next Hackathon is tentatively scheduled take take place in Anchorage in February or March of 2013.
- Municipality of Anchorage: Bus Tracker (does not work for mobile)
- The Atlantic: Do Real-Time Updates Increase Transit Ridership?
- Transportation Research: Ridership effects of real-time bus information system: A case study in the City of Chicago (PDF)
- Boston Launch: MBTA on Google Maps
- Google Transit