Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In Defense of MyBus

In a post on Sunday, I attempted to explain why OneBusAway service had been spotty ever since the King County Metro services changes on Saturday, February 6th. That explanation put a lot of the blame on the MyBus service, which provides the AVL feed used by OneBusAway. One of the MyBus maintainers took serious exception with me placing all the blame on them, and rightly so.

MyBus started as a research project at UW over a decade ago by EE Professor Dan Dailey. Dan and a couple of his associates have been keeping MyBus running ever since on their own time without any compensation and without much thanks. Without their work, we wouldn't have any real-time tracking information for King County buses and we wouldn't have tools like OneBusAway. I'm grateful for their work and I apologize for suggesting that they care any less about improving public transit for King County riders.

My bigger issue is that tools like MyBus and OneBusAway are increasingly services that King County transit riders depend on every day to use the bus. When OneBusAway has issues, I hear about it. Heck, I'm a OneBusAway user myself. When OneBusAway is down, I barely remember how to get home. [Also my wife hassles me]

One of the points I was trying to make in my original post is that Metro has an internal AVL feed that is (in my understanding) very similar to the one maintained by MyBus, with the exception that they have staff paid to keep it up to date with the latest schedule data. If that data was exposed to developers like me, there would be less downtime for users of systems like OneBusAway. Of course, Metro has their own reasons for not exposing the feed, one of which is that they have limited resources themselves.

Nobody is getting rich providing real-time arrival information for King County buses, but a lot of riders are finding it much easier to ride the bus when we do. As long as that's the case, I'll keep fighting to provide services like OneBusAway and I appreciate the efforts of the MyBus staff and staff at King County Metro who help make it all possible.

Monday, February 8, 2010

SeattleBusBot is now the Official Android Client of OneBusAway

I'm proud to announce that OneBusAway now has an official Android client. SeattleBusBot, a native Android client for OneBusAway, is becoming the official Android client for OneBusAway. You can find the app by searching for "OneBusAway" in the Android Marketplace.

SeattleBusBot is now OneBusAway

SeattleBusBot was written by local Seattle developer Paul Watts. The app combines a lot of the same features found in the OneBusAway native iPhone app, but has some new bells and whistles too, such as bus arrival alarms and route bookmarking. And just like OneBusAway, the app is open source too.

What do these changes mean? Paul will still be the lead developer on the Android app, but he'll be rebranding it as OneBusAway over the next few weeks. I'll be doing more to publicize the app to OneBusAway users with Android phones. Finally, we're hoping that by combing our resources, we can do an even better job of providing King County riders with great tools that make it easier to use public transit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why Real-Time Tracking is Always Broken After Service Changes

If you've been using OneBusAway this weekend, you've probably been noticing a lot of "scheduled arrivals". That is, buses that don't have any real-time tracking data available, meaning the best we can do is to show you when the bus is scheduled to arrive. What gives?

You've probably also heard about King County Metro's service changes, which went active on Saturday, February 6th. When big service changes like these go into effect, a lot of the underlying schedule data changes, which means systems like King County's own Tracker and Trip Planner, as well as OneBusAway, need updating. I pushed all my changes on Saturday morning, so most of you shouldn't have noticed any out-of-date data.

Unfortunately, my source for real-time arrival information, the http://mybus.org/ data feed, still hasn't been updated. How can you tell? Compare real-time arrival information for the 44 between MyBus and King County's own tracker:

As of 12:30 pm on Sunday, Feb 7th, lots of "No infos" from MyBus and plenty of real-time info from King County. The fact that MyBus still thinks there is a route 194 is another clue.

In the meantime, OneBusAway is left in the lurch waiting for MyBus to be updated. Of course, King County Metro has already updated their internal tracker feed, but thus far, I haven't been able to convince the powers that be at Metro to give me access.

Either way, my apologies for the disruption in service. Hopefully, when you catch the bus to that Super Bowl party this afternoon, you'll have nothing but on-time arrivals.