Baltimore Transit
February 25, 2015 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How we saved Baltimore $600,000 in one day.
posted by josher71 (77 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can they come to New York and do that too?

Seriously - the "real-time tracker" they have on NYC's buses claim that if you text the bus stop code to a certain number, it'll tell you "in real time" when the next bus is due to arrive, but really what they tell you is when the next bus is scheduled to arrive, and that is often very different and not the information i am looking for dammit
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [17 favorites]


Fucking. Awesome.
posted by Catblack at 1:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


You'll pardon me if that argument rankles me some. Because while it's nice and all that "civic hackers" are figuring this stuff out, their pricing of labor at $0 hurts the rest of us.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [26 favorites]


So Transit App didn't save anyone $600,000 -- rather, some guy named Chris Whong created a 3rd party API, and then they just incorporated the data into their already existing app. It's a little unseemly that in the the headline and much of the article they seem to take more credit for the achievement than they actually deserve.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:43 PM on February 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


As an occasional Baltimore bus rider, thank you. Now can you do something about all the weird people standing in the middle of the street?
posted by ubiquity at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


In Toronto you can text the TTC to find out when the next streetcar is supposed to arrive, which works pretty well...except when it doesn't and the car that you were told was arriving in 3 minutes has disappeared and been replaced by one due in 18.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


their pricing of labor at $0 hurts the rest of us.

How? Was there a line of developers trying to do this for Baltimore? $600,000 to turn data in one text format into data in another text format is the kind of Pentagon gold toilet seat cover stuff civic hackers should be exposing so everyone benefits. Treating development like sorcery that's worth $100,000/ hour of work benefits very few. It results in a system where contracts go to the connected, not the best developers and that screws developers too.
posted by yerfatma at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [35 favorites]


We have volunteers, people doing valuable work for free for no particular reason, and charitable organizations in most lines of work, and as a software developer I see no evidence that free software of any sort is pushing our wages downward. Compared to what free alternatives have done to say, being a musician or a writer or an illustrator, we have pretty far to go before this stuff really hurts us as a profession.
posted by idiopath at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was at an event a while back with some of the folks who left tech companies to go salvage HealthCare.gov when it was a national emergency. I won't name the speaker as he requested, but in response to the belief that engineers don't need to do this kind of government work because other people will, he said "I have been there and met the grown ups and they are not going to fix these problems." That seems applicable here too.
posted by zachlipton at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [24 favorites]


The Ars Technica story on this has more specifics. It says that the data was already exposed in General Transit Feed Specification format.
posted by XMLicious at 1:45 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


They should hook it up to OMGTransit!
posted by miyabo at 1:46 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's the original map Whong and co. came up with.

Ideally, the cost of providing such things should approach $0, because publicly-funded entities should publish their damn data in an machine-readable format and let the market/community republish it in whatever format they choose.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


You'll pardon me if that argument rankles me some. Because while it's nice and all that "civic hackers" are figuring this stuff out, their pricing of labor at $0 hurts the rest of us.

No shit. Plus who's gonna port it to IOS 54 or fix it when they new GPS radios change the data format ? The community app is best effort support at best and that means fix it yourself at worst.

Here in CO, the DOT has a really nice website detailing road conditions. This is handy because closures are common, and sliding off a mountain into the snowy abyss can make getting your rotting corpse difficult. Anyway, CDOT has an app for your smartphone, but they contracted out to a private company for it, and so, it is ad supported. Great! I have 10meg limit while roaming, and not a ton of bandwidth in the mountains to start with, and so much gets used to serve me ads I don't care about if I want to check if the roads have gotten better or worse.

So if this guy were smart, he would have done that and profited off supplying what should be public information.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:48 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


pricing of labor at $0 hurts the rest of us

I feel this argument, and there's definitely been a vibe of "hey come to our hackathon and write code for free and we have free cupcakes" floating around lately, but I'm going to side with civic virtue on this one. If they'd written a shinier interface for Uber or something we'd all be a lot less forgiving.

NYC does have realtime bus info, but it's on a limited number of lines, and it's not very granular (it will tell you what station a bus is at). It could definitely use some improvements.
posted by phooky at 1:49 PM on February 25, 2015


the "real-time tracker" they have on NYC's buses claim that if you text the bus stop code to a certain number, it'll tell you "in real time" when the next bus is due to arrive...

I am definitely finding that the NYC tracker works, with a rough estimate (on my usual routes) of one minute for every tenth of a mile. So if a bus is scheduled to come in 6 minutes but the tracker says it's 2.8 miles away, I know it's gonna be half an hour away & I should walk. I know they've been rolling this function out line by line; maybe some default to the scheduled time.
posted by miles per flower at 1:51 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I find the TTC's texting system pretty accurate. The only downside is having to take your fingers out into the cold to send the text. Also, when they run shuttle buses for whatever reason instead of streetcars, the system seems to get confused and tells you that no street car is ever coming ever.

Anyway, looking at that map screenshot left me with one burning question: Why are there so few buses in Baltimore? I'm thinking there are maybe 50 buses on that map? With that few buses, I would think the answer to "when is the next bus coming" would be pretty reliably "In a looong time."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, back in 2004 I worked on a proprietary bus tracker site for a midsize city (college job). There were some interesting problems -- for example, the bus company only kept track of which bus was running which route on a paper record, so we had to use geo data to reverse engineer which bus was on which route. I am glad things have gotten easier since then.
posted by miyabo at 1:53 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


...it'll tell you "in real time" when the next bus is due to arrive, but really what they tell you is when the next bus is scheduled to arrive...

If you have a smartphone, there's a number of apps (including Transit for iOS, which is what I use) that will tell you exactly where the bus is, assuming the bus is GPS-enabled. I take a lot of different buses pretty often and at least in Brooklyn non-GPS-enabled buses are few and far between.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 1:56 PM on February 25, 2015


We have volunteers, people doing valuable work for free for no particular reason, and charitable organizations in most lines of work, and as a software developer I see no evidence that free software of any sort is pushing our wages downward. Compared to what free alternatives have done to say, being a musician or a writer or an illustrator, we have pretty far to go before this stuff really hurts us as a profession.

Then let's nip this in the bud then. Besides, we're already beginning to see the industry getting changed through the expectation of free labor - look at the rise of asking about commits to open source projects as part of programming job interviews for an example.

How? Was there a line of developers trying to do this for Baltimore? $600,000 to turn data in one text format into data in another text format is the kind of Pentagon gold toilet seat cover stuff civic hackers should be exposing so everyone benefits. Treating development like sorcery that's worth $100,000/ hour of work benefits very few. It results in a system where contracts go to the connected, not the best developers and that screws developers too.

Just because they are doing something useful to society and not asking for payment doesn't mean they should completely devalue their labor - it's a common practice to figure out the cost of one's labor on such a project, then treat it as a donation.

And just because Baltimore overvalued the cost of the labor doesn't mean that these individuals are undervaluing it. It's possible for both cases to be true.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:57 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


this is cool but I bet there's some politician in Baltimore right now saying "you mean HACKERS got in to the bus system?"
posted by thelonius at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


The response from the MTA sheds some additional light.
posted by msbutah at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I just realized the Transit app I was referring to above is by the same company that wrote this article.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel this argument, and there's definitely been a vibe of "hey come to our hackathon and write code for free and we have free cupcakes" floating around lately, but I'm going to side with civic virtue on this one. If they'd written a shinier interface for Uber or something we'd all be a lot less forgiving.

I don't mind that they did it. I do mind that they did it, and then said "hey, we did this, and for free!" Because that would only be true if their time was worthless, and I seriously doubt that is the case.

And let's be honest - part of what drove their "civic virtue" was that the MTA said that it was going to cost $600k.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:07 PM on February 25, 2015


theolnius, I know you are joking, but that attitude is what prevents projects like this from ever happening. Bureaucrats and politicians who are scared of technology and open data prevent the data from ever being available. In my home town a citizen developer did create an app for the transit system and in response the transit authority pulled the API. I can't overstate how much I disagree with that decision.
posted by Gor-ella at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


The response from the MTA sheds some additional light.

Thanks, that adds useful context.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2015


By doing the work for free, this solution avoids dealing with all the state procurement issues that are why it costs $600k to do a small development project.
posted by smackfu at 2:12 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is this journalism, or "sponsored content?"
posted by Existential Dread at 2:17 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks, that adds useful context.

Not really. It supports the position that it would cost $600k to do the project. But doesn't go on to explain why, or how these civic hackers managed to accomplish it for a fraction the price.
posted by pwnguin at 2:25 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


So these guys take open data and put it in their app... but they're not re-publishing it in GTFS-RT? So no one else is able to display this data?

I mean, that's part of what the $600K is for - because the resulting data will be available to everyone and not just one app.
posted by GuyZero at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


theolnius, I know you are joking,

I'm not
posted by thelonius at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't care if it's "sponsored content", it was awesome for them to do, and I love the Transit app (I'm a NYC iOS person). Using it, I like that Google doesn't get to track everywhere I'm going, too.

I'm worried though, that once Apple finally gets its shit together and puts mass transit in the Maps app, all their work will go out the window. It would be nice if Apple just paid them for their code instead.
posted by fungible at 2:33 PM on February 25, 2015


They didn't do MTA's work for free. They demonstrated that some of the data was available, and they helped a Montreal startup scrape that data for their app.

The spec that would have cost $600k to implement is GTFS, a transit data spec developed by Google. Lots of transit providers use this spec to publish their transit data for use with Google Maps and other apps. For example, here is BART's GTFS page, which contains a link to a .zip file with schedule information. There's also a real-time version with even more detail (GTFS-realtime) including alerts and exact bus positions -- I don't know that this format has wide adoption at the moment.

So I'm guessing what the hackers provided was just the realtime position info, which is a tiny subset of the full routes and schedules that GTFS provides. Implementing the full spec with all of the route information (and especially the process for keeping it up-to-date) seems a more intensive task that might justify a $600k price tag given the overhead of a large bureaucratic integration project.

tl;dr: They did not save Baltimore $600k, because they didn't provide a complete dataset to a standard spec in a stable environment.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


They did it for a fraction of the price because they implemented a fraction of the solution. There's probably lots of cut corners. If someone finds a bug, are these guys going to fix it? If the format of the data changes, are they going to change their code to handle it? Will there be a version for non-iOS devices? When the operating systems get updated, are they going to test the app to make sure all its functionality still works? Who's paying for the bandwidth and storage? Are they going to translate the app into multiple languages? Have they made sure that the interface is accessible to users with impaired vision, manual dexterity, etc?
posted by rustcrumb at 2:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


From the MTA response letter:
Currently, that data is not in a secure enough environment which would allow us to make it publicly available in a responsible way. As any experienced data developer would tell you, we are stewards of this information and obliged to protect and manage it responsibly. But we are working on it.
I'm not a data developer. What do these security/stewardship/responsibility arguments mean?
posted by The White Hat at 2:37 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, that's part of what the $600K is for - because the resulting data will be available to everyone and not just one app.

Yep. So besides not being "free" (dev work is always expensive, however the developers could decide to donate that expense), they didn't even address the issue that the $600k project would solve.

So, a more accurate headline might be: How we just ate the cost of a $5k development project instead of being paid by the City of Baltimore.
posted by sideshow at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that the app already existed, by the Montreal startup that wrote the article in the OP. They were just taking advantage of the opportunity the civic hackers gave them to scrape the data before anyone else figured out how to do it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:43 PM on February 25, 2015


This article is disingenuous bullshit written either by people who don't understand the project and think they have done all the work except hit publish on an API (and are wrong) or by people who do understand the work and are deliberately misleading their audience. I personally believe the latter but I could be overestimating them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:55 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


And this kind of made-up story where the government is Wrong and Inefficient is no doubt going to be quoted for years by people who don't have the background to understand that no, the civic hackers were Lying and Half-Assing The Work, so thanks for that, assholes.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:58 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


And this kind of made-up story where the government is Wrong and Inefficient

Have you been to Baltimore?
posted by josher71 at 3:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


As an occasional Baltimore bus rider, thank you. Now can you do something about all the weird people standing in the middle of the street?

If you don like'm, stop re-lectin'm, hon.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:06 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


What do these security/stewardship/responsibility arguments mean?

Can the feed handle the traffic load when Google adds it to its app? Is the feed presented securely so that it's not possible to corrupt the data stream? Is the service configured for reliability and redundancy?

You don't turn on a data feed for the world if it can't handle the world actually using it.
posted by fatbird at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


What do these security/stewardship/responsibility arguments mean?

One argument might include control over how third-parties potentially monetize work and data service feeds, where their creation and upkeep is ultimately funded by taxpayers.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:15 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can the feed handle the traffic load when Google adds it to its app?

Google fetches (non-realtime) transit data updates from partners pretty infrequently - years ago it used to be once a week. Today it's probably daily at best. But your point stands - other app developers may not be so careful.

And someone has to be responsible for the data ultimately. Just because this system works today does not mean it will work tomorrow.

$600K is a lot, but not knowing what that includes, maybe it's not. Big software installations cost a lot of money.
posted by GuyZero at 3:19 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chris Whong (the "civic hacker") did not claim he saved Baltimore $600k. That was click-bait from the Montreal startup that develops transit apps.

Here is an article about Whong's efforts.

I tend to agree with him that MTA may have been better off saving the money they spent on their clunky web apps where improvements are "years away" and just published GTFS data for Google and other free and commercial aggregators.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:25 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I live in a backwater that treats public transportation as welfare for the poors and hippies. I say that only because it makes me glad that I'm not tempted to download TransitApp. The tone of the author of that advertorial nearly washed out my douche canoe radar.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:35 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


but really what they tell you is when the next bus is scheduled to arrive

That hasn't been my experience, but I might be fortunate in that I live off of one of the first lines to use the Bus Time system. It was wonky as hell when they first rolled it out, but has since become pretty well reliable.

More reliable than the Transit app, even.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This may be a stupid question, but could you not also crowdsource bus locations? Surely if there's one person on the bus with a GPS-enabled smartphone, one could find out where the bus was. At peak times, with some buy-in from users, surely you could get close to 100% coverage.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:48 PM on February 25, 2015


Have you been to Baltimore?

No, so what? I'm not saying that the Baltimore government is good or bad - I'm saying that this specific purported evidence for them being bad is invalid and will be quoted anyway.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


One argument might include control over how third-parties potentially monetize work and data service feeds, where their creation and upkeep is ultimately funded by taxpayers.

The issue of data licensing and liability has had a pretty robust discussion in the transit community. On one hand many agencies don't want people to commercialize apps using their data, but on the other agencies recognize they don't have the capacity to make their own apps. Some agencies have clear licenses (like BART) and some won't touch it out of fear .

Of course it really depends on the agency and who is the advocate/data steward. It's slowly changing, but it's going to take time. While GTFS has become the defacto standard, let's not forget APTA's TCIP which still gets mentioned from time to time. The GTFS story really is about making certain types of transit data more open for the public, but the standard itself isn't truly open. Even though people call it the General Transit Feed Standard now, it's still hosted and maintained by Google which gives some open data people pause.

This may be a stupid question, but could you not also crowdsource bus locations? Surely if there's one person on the bus with a GPS-enabled smartphone, one could find out where the bus was. At peak times, with some buy-in from users, surely you could get close to 100% coverage.

The problem with crowdsourcing this kind of data is provenance and trust. People expect MTA and other transit agencies data to be reliably accurate and scalable, which crowdsourcing can't do without vetting. It's not always appropriate. Some agencies and researchers are experimenting with crowdsourced data, but it still has a long ways to go. For agencies to really rely on the data for a public service it has to be defensible. That's one upside to using private developers to make apps instead, since the agency doesn't assume full responsibility for anything other than their data.
posted by kendrak at 4:05 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm not a data developer. What do these security/stewardship/responsibility arguments mean?

Well... I have a trove of GTFS schedule data that I'm not supposed to have that a source gave me to play around with, and I've read the agreement by which my source got the data from the transit agency in question, and...

Apparently it means that that there are about 15 offices that need to sign off on any public use of this data, that there's going to be infighting and little fiefdoms and politics like you wouldn't freakin' believe, and if you actually manage to make any money off of any application which uses the data it's gonna be that to the nth.

So it's easier just to spider the bus schedules off the web site than to try to use their GTFS.

I'm sympathetic to notions of need for uptime and load testing and what-not, I have two applications which extracted data from my local municipal government's stores and republished it in different formats that have now died due to bit rot and disinterest on my part, but that $600k number was undoubtedly half for the staff time necessary to placate all of the various internal factions, and half for the web development company owned by some council member's nephew.
posted by straw at 4:19 PM on February 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think I by mistake clicked on the large print version

or maybe all of these paragraphs are just really long section headers??
posted by threeants at 4:33 PM on February 25, 2015


More charitably than straw puts it: When a gang of civic hackers throws up a cool service that does something awesome, and then it crashes and burns under load or just doesn't work too hot, people tend to shrug and say "oh well, it was awesome and maybe they can fix it... we're further ahead than we were before!"

When a municipal agency does, they're risking lawsuits and tons of bad press.
posted by fatbird at 4:35 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Huh, looks like MTA does have an existing GTFS feed (check out the nifty aggregator site!) so that $600k was just for adding the position information to the feed. That seems a little steep.

From another article: The agency has a two-year warranty on the system, after which it will enter into a software maintenance contract with an outside vendor at an estimated average cost of $135,000 per year for the first five years.

Ah, there we go. I bet that vendor wants to sell them a really expensive mobile app rather than give Google and the rest of the world all that functionality for free, so they're pricing it astronomically.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:35 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, enterprise software maintenance contracts are just really expensive. To the point where the product being sold is often a loss-leader.
posted by GuyZero at 4:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I find the TTC's texting system pretty accurate. The only downside is having to take your fingers out into the cold to send the text.

If this then that.

If I have not gotten on the 876 bus by 9:30, text ttc.

Then when you are warm in the on time bus you cancel the next instance.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 5:37 PM on February 25, 2015


When I lived in Baltimore I too would often use a hack to get around the limitations of the MTA.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


CHARGE YOUR GODDAMN PHONE

what IS it with people not charging their phones? YOU COULD DIE FROM THAT.
posted by disclaimer at 6:06 PM on February 25, 2015


Seriously - the "real-time tracker" they have on NYC's buses claim that if you text the bus stop code to a certain number, it'll tell you "in real time" when the next bus is due to arrive

Geez, I had no idea the MBTA was so advanced. We have real-time arrival data in apps, and it certainly isn't perfect, but it's a huge improvement in the experience of riding the bus.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:47 PM on February 25, 2015


GuyZero: "No, enterprise software maintenance contracts are just really expensive. To the point where the product being sold is often a loss-leader."

The first hit is always free. Remember, stay clear of drugs kids!
posted by pwnguin at 6:54 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"No, enterprise software maintenance contracts are just really expensive. To the point where the product being sold is often a loss-leader."

I've tried to explain this to sooooooo many MBA execs that I just don't care anymore. They are all like, "I've got an MBA" you only have a silly degree in engineering. Therefore, I'll be off onto another better paying gig while you're stuck here trying to convert from this solution to the next one recommended by my MBA replacement - and for the same pay. Sucker.

Not that I'm bitter.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the article: The buses’ rely on old GPS and radio signals to report location data. The system is primitive, and as such, the data can be somewhat unreliable.

We have "real" "time" "arrival" data in SF (see: NextMuni). It actually worked okay for me as early as last year but I strongly suspect that maintaining it is a low priority, because I've noticed an uptick in its failure to predict buses that actually show up, as well as its predicting "ghost" buses that never show. It's certainly better than the published timetables, which are basically completely meaningless except for the first and last trips. But it's still not great to have to play the odds about whether "34 minutes" actually means there won't be a bus for 34 minutes, or whether a bus with its GPS disabled or misconfigured or whatever will actually show up 15-25 minutes in. This kind of data is really only as useful as the infrastructure it's collected from.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:42 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


NYC does have realtime bus info, but it's on a limited number of lines, and it's not very granular (it will tell you what station a bus is at).

What? No!

NYC has realtime bus info for ALL lines. The website only tells you what station a bus is at, but the data is very granular (the API will tell you exactly how many meters a bus is away from the stop, down to two decimal points.) The data refreshes every 15 seconds or so on average, too. It's actually really great.
posted by suedehead at 10:50 PM on February 25, 2015


That could've financed the shit out of the Stanfield investigation—no need for a sexual serial killer.
posted by flippant at 11:40 PM on February 25, 2015


Out of curiosity, as I'd not seen this before moving here, do other cities have signs at stops that update with the real time to the next train/bus? It can be seen in the upper left of this picture, and I've found it really useful in terms of estimating wait+travel times to say when I'll arrive, or deciding whether the wait for a bus is going to take longer than just walking 2-3 stops.

That would seem to be the biggest benefit that the Viennese public got out of real-time transit tracking, with the data being open to developers, in order to build something other than/better than the official web pages and apps, being a fringe benefit.
posted by frimble at 12:35 AM on February 26, 2015


frimble: Yeah, we have that for pretty much every train in London now. It's also at many, many bus stops, although I couldn't say whether it's a majority. It's a massive improvement and generally pretty reliable.
posted by adrianhon at 3:24 AM on February 26, 2015


Suedehead - I'm talking about the thing where you text a stop's ID number to a code and you are supposed to get a text message back saying when the next bus will arrive. Every time I've done that, I'm doing so because I'm at the stop and it's late, and I'm wondering how much later it's going to be, so I do that and get a return text message that tells me what its regularly scheduled stop is rather than where it really is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:53 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, so what? I'm not saying that the Baltimore government is good or bad - I'm saying that this specific purported evidence for them being bad is invalid and will be quoted anyway

Off topic: City government and the managing of state services in the city are jumblefucks of the highest order. For example, the city hall floors and carpets aren't going to be cleaned for the next four years because someone forgot to renew the floor cleaning contract. Before you jump in with your solutions, I asked about those and was told "Not possible". So, employees have their own vacuums.

What is the evidence you think is invalid?
posted by josher71 at 4:45 AM on February 26, 2015


This is a great idea! My performance eval is next week, and I'm going to lead with the part about how I saved the company five billion dollars by grudgingly abandoning my nascent space program.
posted by Mayor West at 5:56 AM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oddly enough the baltimore circulator, which is by and large the city's separate free bus system for tourists and richer neighborhoods (so, inner harbor, harbor east, mt vernon, federal hill, fells point, locust point), has been on nextbus for years.
posted by advil at 8:43 AM on February 26, 2015


frimble:
Copenahgen has those for buses and trains, and yes they are very useful.

SF has them at least on some bus lines, but as en forme de poire mentioned, they don't always work. Stupid phantom 22.
posted by nat at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is the evidence you think is invalid?

This story? Their attempt to equate 'x' that the government estimated at $600k with 'y' which is what they actually did for free in a day and a totally different thing, and the implications that the government gave a bloated and stupid estimate and was going to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars? I assume you are not a programmer, but a rough analogy of their story is "The government said a new freeway from my town to the next would cost millions of dollars but I cycled along the railway tracks to get there in a day and saved them all that money!"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:20 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hear amazing things about OneBusAway from friends in cities that use it, and I can't wait to have something similar available. I mean, as it is, transit info is basically my only legitimate reason to have a smartphone. Having better info available would be amazing.

Especially yesterday afternoon on my way home from work during a snowstorm, and my usual bus route was 40 minutes behind schedule (and how that's even possible when it runs every 30 minutes, I don't know.) I know the schedule for that bus, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have had a good way of checking it since the bus stop sign (and its unique stop identifier number) was entirely covered in snow, and I couldn't reach it to brush it off. I was only able to confirm that I hadn't somehow missed the bus when I went up to the next stop and found somebody who'd been waiting longer and more attentively than I had. That said, I still got home faster and with less stress and risk of injury than anybody I heard about who'd been driving, so I'm not complaining so much about the wait as the uncertainty. (I mean, it's a snowstorm. There's only so much anybody can do about that.)

Our transit org tweeted yesterday that they'll have real-time bus tracking by the end of the year, but I'm pretty sure I heard that last year, too. I know these projects are huge and cumbersome in many ways, but damn, having this service up and running would be useful immediately. The building blocks for the tracking system have already been great -- no need to worry about a driver forgetting to announce a stop when we've got GPS-based stop announcements.
posted by asperity at 12:44 PM on February 26, 2015


Do other cities have signs at stops that update with the real time to the next train/bus?

I ride MetroTransit here in Minneapolis and we have this for the trains. I don't ride them, so I don't know if it is actual time or scheduled time. I can tell you the buses are scheduled time and so, the only useful part is the sign telling you what the time the bus thinks it is. I know the bus is supposed to come at 5:07. But it is 5:10 and it hasn't come yet. Is it coming at 5:12, or not until 5:27? I emailed them after waiting for over 10 minutes for a bus to ask why it said the bus was "Due" when it never showed. They said they were looking into the feasibility of having it show real times. That was just under two years ago.

Additionally, the only bus stops I know of that have this are the ones on the two streets heavily used by the express commuter buses downtown. The other two downtown streets that buses use heavily don't have them despite them having more buses because all of those are local buses.
posted by soelo at 1:17 PM on February 26, 2015


I recently got involved in a "civic hacking" (I hate that term) group, and I'm of 2 minds on these articles. I dislike how easily this sort of thing can play into the narrative of all government being bad and inefficient. But honestly, there really are areas where volunteer programmers can make a useful impact, and their solutions don't always need to be enterprise-grade. This may be a poor example since you would expect transit data to get queried many, many times as usage goes up, but other volunteer programming projects have focused on smaller datasets that are not real time an of interest to fewer people. Designing a mostly-static, not-very-popular data set to scale massively is complete overengineering so creating a simple interface would be a good project for volunteers.
posted by Tehhund at 2:58 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Incidentally the outside vendor is most likely GIRO, which kind of dominates the transit software business. Their software does route optimization, scheduling, printing paper schedules, planning vehicle maintenance, driver payroll... basically everything you need to be a transit agency. If you think about it their main customers are probably much, much bigger than Baltimore (think $10bn HSR projects in Europe) so they probably don't care much about going after little projects like this. Plus they have to do all the compliance tasks associated with getting government contracts all over the world... $600k sounds cheap in that context.
posted by miyabo at 4:21 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


$600k sounds cheap in that context
I have a transit solution I'd like to sell you...
posted by Le Ton beau at 6:33 PM on February 26, 2015


Nextbus.com works very well in Toronto, for buses anyway - never had to use it for streetcars.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 7:03 PM on February 26, 2015


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