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Improving GTHA Transit via Tech (Apps, Maps, Real-Time Traffic & Transit ETAs)

mdrejhon

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Hello,

Over the recent years, impressive technologies have occured. I don't see a thread that consolidates this, because they are all interconnected.

Today, we take Google Maps (or other map apps) for granted.
...But under the hood, when you think of it, it is an engineering breakthrough -- you know what directions and traffic conditions are like in most major cities in the world, in real time. Back in 1985, pocket map-screen computers that told you exactly where you were on Earth, and how to detour around an accident (e.g. Android/iOS Google Navigation automatic detour suggestions -- you simply turn into detour and it automatically selects the timesaving detour), and when the next bus was arriving at the nearest bus stop and that you can transfer between -- would have been far-future science fiction like jet backpacks. But, today, a billon people own a pocket electronics devices that are capable of running apps that do all of that today. Whether looking up Paris transit and metro in realtime, even while you're standing in Toronto. Or knowing that an accident happened somewhere in London, UK while you're standing in rural Iowa -- if you peeked.

Technology integrated transit directions...
Back in the late 90s, we had primitive Mapquest, and then Google Maps popularized the infinitely panning map, and over time, we got color coded car traffic data, transit directions, then real-time ETA (late buses and trains), and if you frequently use a smartphone, it is now finally easy to get transit directions that combine both TTC and GO, on the same itinerary, even though TTC and Metrolinx has not otherwise made it easy other than making their schedules/arrival information public. Today, if you were visiting your parents, apps (e.g. Google Maps, Transit App, etc) can tell you how to catch a Hamilton Street Railway bus to a GO Train station, catch a GOtrain, and then transfer to TTC subway, then a TTC streetcar, to reach your destination, all knowing the timetable of all the services involved. Throw in more intercity distance (e.g. a Hamilton address and an Ottawa address), some transit apps even automatically calculates a VIA train or intercity bus connection, too! Even asking for directions by voice too ("[Siri or GoogleNow], how do I get to 123 Main Street in BigCity, Ontario?" is now quickly getting more and more reliable. Just fifteen years ago, getting transit directions this conveniently was still HAL9001-style science fiction.

Google monitors more real-time traffic than municipalities today!
You know the EULA you tapped "Agree" on when you first launched Google Maps on your phone? Yep, you agreed to being tracked by GPS. Sort of. The data is anonymized and transmitted intermittently, knowing what speeds on which sections of roads at which times of the day. Millions of people are wearing bona-fide GPS trackers (smartphones) in their pocket and transmits all this data to Google, which is precisely how Google knows traffic conditions of many suburban and semi-rural roads where there isn't any loop detectors or traffic cameras! (Yes...many people don't realize this -- The EULA agreement you agreed to, when using Google Navigation or Apple Maps). Yes, Google Traffic is often crowd-sourced by people wearing millions of Android and iPhones -- NCTA Article & Google "google traffic crowdsourcing". This upends cities' former monopoly on traffic data. Cities cannot compete with a hundred million moving cellphones on streets, speeding up and slowing down, and this is why you see a Worldwide Atlas of real-time traffic information -- and know which roads are congested or not! Crowdsourced data now detects new roads (e.g. many people speeding over a missing unmapped road, now indicates a new road) and more quickly puts new roads onto a map, or alerts employees at Google to track down updated municipal information (e.g. a new subdivision), keeping maps very freshly up to date, and in some cases, occasionally more up-to-date than maps stored at city hall!
(IMPORTANT: Let's avoid the controversy of agreeing to be tracked by google -- and stay on topic. Also, other apps such as TomTom and Apple use crowdsourced info too, and apple has a few crowdsourcing patents for Apple Maps. From an academic perspective this is still technologically brilliant, and people can still opt out, if they wish.)

Catching governments off guard....
The spectacular boom of online mapping, putting the World Atlas into your pocket (aggregating continent-wide real-time car traffic and transit arrival data). Read: John Tory wants to use data to ease congestion. Tory said, adding he is “embarrassed” that GPS firm TomTom has a real-time Toronto traffic map and the city does not. The ability to use real time traffic information to properly test transit improvements such as better traffic-signal-priority or more quickly designing faster public transit (Imagine a traffic engineer doing work more efficiently, "Doing this test last month saved an average of 10 minutes off St. Clair Streetcar, we need to make this change permanent"). I am glad Tory has realized this and is pushing for better utilization of data.

Dedicated transit apps that are much more efficient than Google Maps...
Another example is transit apps have hit the market, including "Transit App" (4.5 to 5-star rated). It is useful in many countries; simply opening the app automatically displays all the transit routes near your current GPS location. It includes all of GTHA's public transit agencies, including TTC, GO, MiWay, etc. New standards have arrived that allows governments to share real-time data to transit apps, like the current TTC bus is running 5 minutes late -- just simply launching Transit App while standing at the bus stop, will tell you that (because it knows by GPS). Many city hall websites now provide public transit data to Google and other transit apps for free, in return getting apps that makes our lives a lot easier. Millions now use our computers, phones, or tablets, to look up public transit directions on websites other than the official one (e.g. looking up TTC directions on TransitApp.com, or looking up GOtrain timetable on Google Maps).

Better real-time transit ETA data needs to public, to permit better transit apps....
This development is so new that integration is still occuring. For example, Metrolinx provides real-time GOtrain traffic data at www.gotracker.ca so you know where the GOtrains are currently on the whole line (as moving icons on a railroad track), so you can see whether your next GOtrain is currently delayed by how many minutes. But the realtime data isn't currently being supplied to Transit App yet, so Transit App doesn't know if your GO Train is delayed. (TTC and YRT provides realtime arrival data, but GOTransit doesn't yet seem to make realtime data publicly available despite it being easily found on GOTransits' websites). TTC actually made Transit App their official third-party transit app recommendation (see www.ttc.ca) even though Transit App also brings up potential competition (nearby Uber cars and nearby GOtrains). Metrolinx is a little behind, but hopefully will follow by making real-time information public for more intelligent transit calculations (e.g. determining whether or not to transfer between TTC/GO, based on arrival times). One UrbanToronto looks over a rail overpass from a streetcar, to decide whether to step off the streetcar and decide whether to transfer to a GOtrain or continue along on the streetcar. If Transit App had real-time arrival info from Metrolinx just like they do from TTC, then someone can make an easier judgement determination simply by launching the app (which would simply automatically load all stations nearby, including the nearby GO station, and tell you that the next GOtrain comes in 4 minutes at that very station, from real-time GO traffic data). See the list of supported public transit agencies by Transit App and see that real-time information is only available from only 1/4 of the GTHA public transit agencies. That is not good enough, and needs to be improved, for better transfers. The situation is somewhat similiar for transit directions on Google Maps; they don't have access to all real-time transit data by all of the transit agencies. And for other transit/wayfinding apps that thousands use.

Near Future
There is a lot of near future improvements such as better industry-standard public information (e.g. providing real-time transit arrival data in XML format that can be processed by hundreds of map systems and transit apps). In addition, city agencies apparently need to take advantage of big data (ala Google Maps) more often to realize what bottlenecks exist in public transit networks. In a world where Google often bypasses transit agencies to set up a massive traffic monitoring network via crowdsourcing, the public now has access to better traffic information than the city does. Inefficient handling of transit networks will always be a political problem (e.g. cancellation of Transit City) but we can at least optimize things like speeding up a streetcar route, or optimizing the interference between streetcars/cars, as well as making a TTC or Gardiner shutdown less painful. Google Maps style interfaces now assist in preliminary planning, with the ease of scrolling through a high-resolution satellite map superior in resolution to what was easily available yesterday, perhaps paid for by the city -- by purchasing satellite photographs made -- and giving a mapping company (Even Google) access to it, to let a city scroll through fresher satellite maps for transit planning. New satellites have been launched that lets you purchase photographing that can be accelerated onto mapping services. Cities taking advantage of this, can be more efficient in planning.

Far Future
In addition, there is a lot of far-future improvements such as self-driving cars increasing the capacity of a HOV lane, and may affect future services (e.g. self-driving car-sharing / taxis) and may within our lifetimes even provide last-mile services for some transit routes, incorporated automatically into wayfinding software. (Some transit apps now even tell you where the nearest zipcars/autoshares are -- but tomorrow, now imagine electric zipcars/autoshares/car2gos/uber/etc becoming self-driving efficiently allowing the same car to service dozens of people in one day for last-mile services that don't fill buses today, and crowdsourced funding may automatically carpool multiple commuters into one shared selfdriving zipcar tapped by the same Presto farecard! You take your iPhone 28S out of your pocket in a remote location that only has 30min bus service, "Siri, how do I get to ACME Business Park?", and one suggestion is "AUTOMATIC CARPOOL ZIPCAR. ETA: 4min. AVAIL SEATS: 1/4. TAP PRESTO ON YOUR PHONE NOW TO RESERVE SEAT" if your app computes that a nearby selfdriving carpooling zipcar taxi is going to be driving past you & will be driving past your desired destination. There's almost no difference between a taxi, a carshare, beck, airport taxi, uber, a microbus, a car rental, if the vehicle is self driving. You've tapped your farecard, now it shows the map with a car icon, coming ever closer and closer to you (Uber-style). Fare automatically reduces the more the car gets filled (to public transit levels). These selfdriving carpooling taxis are potentially going to be so popular in 50-60 years from now, that half of the street will be selfdriving public transit or taxis. That you can hail one anywhere in the city to get anywhere -- or more cheaply to the nearest subway or high speed gotrain (cheaper car fares due to more automatic carpoolers heading to popular mass-transit stations). Some will be sole-occupant limo luxuries while others will be self-driving 4-person public transit carpools at fares similar to public transit for short connecting drives. Owning a car inside a metropolitian area may be a luxury in our grandchildren's lifetimes. (Some say 10 years, but I say more realistically 50 years as it will take time for laws, insurance companies, etc to catch up & trusted automatic reliability in rain/snow). Maybe some transit agencies blend all the way from streetcars, buses, minivans, and 4-person cars. You never can truly predict what'll happen in 30 or 50 years from now, when such technologies may be a reality.

Now back to the present, there is a lot of technology and big data aspects we are now taking for granted (e.g. map apps), and a lot that can help improve GTHA transit in the near future, as Mayor Tory has now realized.

This discussion thread kicks off the "Technology" and "Big Data" aspect of "Improving GTHA Transit".
 
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georgevicbell

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In the future, conventional taxi drivers would be unemployed, thanks to self-driving cars.

There should be Wi-Fi in the tunnels as well, given that currently, the subway tunnels are a dead zone, Wi-Fi-wise.

One of the things I saw today in Milan was on their subways there are video screens in each car with the previous, current and next stations listed, and underneath each station name it has details for that station (which bus/subway/streetcar connections are available, intersecting streets, and bathroom/accessibility/restaurant indicators)...this combined with nextbus and wi-fi in the tunnels would be amazing....imagine being able to see in the subway whether you should get off at this station or the next based on when the next few busses are coming....revolutionary...
 

ehlow

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My favourite developments re: GPS tech are probably:

- Transit vehicles displaying & automatically reading the next stop. I remember being on the Finch bus years ago and it was so crowded you couldn't look outside to see where you were. You had to basically guess when to request a stop.

- Stops showing the # of minutes until the next vehicle.

I'm hoping for continued installation of wifi at more subway stations, and hopefully sometime way later, the tunnels too so it doesn't keep disconnecting.
 

TheTigerMaster

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I don't care for WiFi. I want cellular LTE underground. I really don't like connecting to shady WiFi hotspots.

For whatever reason they've disabled VPN connectivity on their network, so they could theoretically snoop on unencrypted user data. I'm a little suspicious of this, but I'll assume it's for altruistic purposes (stopping terrorism or whatever).

Also LTE is faster, I don't have to waste precious seconds setting connecting and I can text and call.
 

Johnny Au

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One of the things I saw today in Milan was on their subways there are video screens in each car with the previous, current and next stations listed, and underneath each station name it has details for that station (which bus/subway/streetcar connections are available, intersecting streets, and bathroom/accessibility/restaurant indicators)...this combined with nextbus and wi-fi in the tunnels would be amazing....imagine being able to see in the subway whether you should get off at this station or the next based on when the next few busses are coming....revolutionary...
Yes yes yes!

My favourite developments re: GPS tech are probably:

- Transit vehicles displaying & automatically reading the next stop. I remember being on the Finch bus years ago and it was so crowded you couldn't look outside to see where you were. You had to basically guess when to request a stop.

- Stops showing the # of minutes until the next vehicle.

I'm hoping for continued installation of wifi at more subway stations, and hopefully sometime way later, the tunnels too so it doesn't keep disconnecting.
I must agree.

I don't care for WiFi. I want cellular LTE underground. I really don't like connecting to shady WiFi hotspots.

For whatever reason they've disabled VPN connectivity on their network, so they could theoretically snoop on unencrypted user data. I'm a little suspicious of this, but I'll assume it's for altruistic purposes (stopping terrorism or whatever).

Also LTE is faster, I don't have to waste precious seconds setting connecting and I can text and call.
LTE would be a wonderful addition (if one can stand people talking on their smartphones in the tunnel).
 

Adjei

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One of the things I saw today in Milan was on their subways there are video screens in each car with the previous, current and next stations listed, and underneath each station name it has details for that station (which bus/subway/streetcar connections are available, intersecting streets, and bathroom/accessibility/restaurant indicators)...this combined with nextbus and wi-fi in the tunnels would be amazing....imagine being able to see in the subway whether you should get off at this station or the next based on when the next few busses are
coming....revolutionary...

Saw the same thing in Amsterdam except on their buses. There was a screen which showed the next bus stop and how long it would take to get there and connecting buses.
 

mpd618

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RideCo is a KW start-up doing something along the lines of Uber Pool and Lyft Line, namely adaptive small-vehicle on-demand transit. They're piloting it with Metrolinx in Milton, I believe.
 

WislaHD

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One of the things I saw today in Milan was on their subways there are video screens in each car with the previous, current and next stations listed, and underneath each station name it has details for that station (which bus/subway/streetcar connections are available, intersecting streets, and bathroom/accessibility/restaurant indicators)...this combined with nextbus and wi-fi in the tunnels would be amazing....imagine being able to see in the subway whether you should get off at this station or the next based on when the next few busses are coming....revolutionary...
This gave me a maybe wacky idea.

How about we receive live-feeds of the next station inside stations? So if you were going southbound at Davisville Station, you can see a live-feed of Eglinton station, specifically if the train has arrived or left Eglinton yet. Likewise if going northbound, you see a live-feed of St. Clair station.

Maybe a novelty idea that has less functionality than the 'estimated minutes remaining' but I think it would be pretty cool and stress-relieving for riders. (If you visually see the train leave the previous station, then your mind is at ease because you know it is coming)
 

wopchop

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People here would hate that idea, because you would be showing the subway next to streetcar and bus routes, which will apparently start the apocalypse. Or something.
 

TheTigerMaster

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This gave me a maybe wacky idea.

How about we receive live-feeds of the next station inside stations? So if you were going southbound at Davisville Station, you can see a live-feed of Eglinton station, specifically if the train has arrived or left Eglinton yet. Likewise if going northbound, you see a live-feed of St. Clair station.

Maybe a novelty idea that has less functionality than the 'estimated minutes remaining' but I think it would be pretty cool and stress-relieving for riders. (If you visually see the train leave the previous station, then your mind is at ease because you know it is coming)

The only thing this could result with is hundreds of commuters fumbling with phones as the run for the train.
 

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