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TransLink and Google Transit, together at last

Not, perhaps, as revolutionary as honey and peanut butter, but still very rad – we can now use Google Transit to get directions from one place to another taking public transit. Richard (mostly) and I have been jumping up and down on it and kicking the tires, and he has a great summary of the stuff he’s tried to do with it, as well as how he came to hear about the TransLink-Google Transit Launch Event that happened yesterday.

Why’s this a big deal even though TransLink’s website already has a trip planner? Well, if you’ve actually tried to use the TransLink Trip Planner either on an isolated occasion or on a regular basis, you’ll quickly come to the following conclusions about it:

  1. It is slow. Half the time I can’t even get the front page of the website to load up for me in less than 20 seconds on broadband.
  2. It is tedious. To get your directions, you have to go through no less than typically five screens to actually get to your directions. If you want to get alternate routing information, be prepared to wait at least another minute.
  3. It is sometimes not that smart. It can give you really circuitous directions to get to where you’re going, ways that you’d never really consider.

OK, so that last one’s a bit of a cheater – Google Transit still does the last one a bit sometimes, and I think that’s a symptom of the systems not (yet) being able to capture the subtle, tacit transit knowledge that comes from using it to get everywhere, from overhearing people asking bus drivers how to get places, from using it to try to get to new places, from having a u-pass and time to kill, from carrying around the big book of transit schedules. There’s a sense of prioritization in the way decisions about how to get somewhere that’s different for every trip and person: what’s an express route, what bus will save me from walking as much, what buses are less busy at certain times of day, where’s Canada Line construction or a CN Rail train going to throw a complete wrench in things, what buses will pass by places I want to go, what buses can take my bike (since, alas, there are now buses that can’t take my bike at certain times of day).

Attending the launch yesterday was oodles of fun mostly because we got to meet tons of cool people that I’m definitely going to be talking to about TransitCamp. Aside from the transit geek circle I already know, I finally got to meet Paul of the Transit Documents and Joe Hughes from Headway Blog and Google Transit’s dev team (and who also happens to have Toronto connections – who would’ve thunk it?), and grabbed a bunch of business cards from TransLink employees as well as some sweet swag (photos forthcoming, right jmv? ;) that Richard and I are modelling in that picture up top).

Joe’s demo of the thing was excellent (though obviously someone hasn’t taken a GPS location thingamer to get the real path for the West Coast express yet – take a look at this route. Or maybe it really does travel that way, I haven’t taken it enough to know). I was especially enthused with the MyMaps feature, which I hadn’t heard about previously – it does a great job of capturing some of the tacit knowledge I was talking about, since you can create your own maps, probably not wholly unlike Platial.

ETA: Rebecca‘s also posted about this over at Metroblogging Vancouver.

I look forward to spending new time with the communal toy! Thanks to everyone at Google and Translink that got this happening.

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  1. […] Translink and Google Transit, together at last | Home […]

  2. By Translink and Google | paulhillsdon.com on November 3, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    […] a story out of it. Which is rather unfortunate, but it’s great for independent media like blogs, which have covered the announcement, and the […]

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