Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Features You Might Have Missed

In addition to many of the big changes to OneBusAway from last weekend, there were a couple of small new features that I wanted to mention that will hopefully make OneBusAway work even better for you:

Arrival Alerts

I have a common problem where I check my stop from my computer, see it's coming in 10 minutes, and figure "Oh I've got five minutes to check my email before I need to leave." I then proceed to get distracted and forget to check again until the bus is almost here and I end up sprinting to the stop. It's a vicious cycle.

To help break the cycle, we've introduced simple arrival alerts. To activate an alert, browse to your stop page as you normally would (note that this feature only works in OneBusAway's standard web interface):

Arrival Alerts - How to Access

Click on the minutes-until-arrival for a particular trip and you'll bring up an arrivals alert page for that trip:

Arrival Alerts

You can set an alert to go off a certain number of minutes before the bus is predicted to arrive, either playing a sound or popping up an alert. Just leave the browser window open in the background while you user your computer, and you'll get an alert when it's time to go catch your bus.

Multi-Stop Views and Route Filtering

For some riders, there is often more than one bus that can get you to your destination. If the buses pick up at different stops, you can check each stop individually in OneBusAway to see which bus is coming next, but wouldn't it be nice to see both stops in one combined view with just the routes you care about? Now you can.

If you click on the new "See multiple stops and filter routes" button at the bottom of any standard web interface real-time arrival stop page, you'll bring up a screen where you can select multiple stops and filter which routes you'd like to see:

Stop and Route Selection

You can add and remove stops and pick just the routes you want to see. This can be particularly useful for busy stops that have lots of routes where you only care about one or two. When you have everything the way you like it, click "Click to view your custom stop view" and you'll be taken to a customized stop view that you can bookmark for easy access in the future.

SMS Bookmarks

Users of the OneBusAway phone system have long had the ability to bookmark stops for quicker access in the future. We've now added that feature to the SMS interface as well. This means you don't have to remember long stop numbers any more. Also note that these bookmarks are synced with your phone bookmarks as well.

For more details, check out the SMS page.

That's All for Now

We hope you find these new features useful. As always, let us know if you run into any issues.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Big Changes to OneBusAway: Pierce Transit Routes Now Included

I'm happy (and a little scared) to announce some not-so-minor changes to OneBusAway. Happy because those changes finally bring real multi-agency support to OneBusAway, including real-time data for Pierce Transit. It's been almost a year since my first meeting with PT to discuss the possibility of adding their routes to OneBusAway and through a lot of work on both sides, it's finally come to be.

I'm also a little scared because multi-agency support means a new codebase (and new bugs) along with some subtle changes in how you interact with OneBusAway. The biggest change is that since there are no longer just King County routes in OneBusAway, some things are not so simple. When you search for "route #1", did you mean the one for King County Metro or for Pierce Transit or possibly for some other agency we add in the future? Most of the changes deal with making sure you get information tailored to your needs.

What kind of specific changes am I talking about?

If you are using the iPhone or Android app, the good news is that there are no changes at all. These apps were designed with multi-agency support from the start. You should just start seeing Pierce Transit stops and routes showing up in your searches.

If you are using any of the web interfaces (standard, mobile, or text-only), there are two big changes:
  1. The form of stop urls have slightly changed because stop ids now have an agency prefix. We will automatically detect the old style of url and redirect you to the appropriate new url with a quick message explaining that you should update your bookmarks.
  2. We remember a default search area for each user. Similar to how Google Maps remembers your default search location, we remember your search area and return routes and stops appropriate to you when you perform a search. We chose to go with a default search location, as opposed to a default transit agency, since most of the local agencies have overlapping service coverage and many users ride routes from multiple agencies over the course of a day.
The phone and SMS interfaces have been similarly changed to support a default search location. The first time you use the system, you will be prompted to enter your zip code so that we can provide results appropriate to your area.

The default search location is tied to a new user preferences system that will be the basis for a number of interesting new features for OneBusAway. In the future, I'm hoping to have synchronized stop bookmarks and route preferences across all the OneBusAway interfaces, as well as customized notifications and alerts.

Of course, I understand that some users may not be comfortable with OneBusAway storing personal preferences like their default search locations. As such, I've made it easy to reset your preferences or to opt out completely if you wish. OneBusAway will work just the same; you may just have to provide a little more information when doing searches for new routes and stops in the future.

All in all, these are some major changes to the site. If you run into any issues with the transition, definitely let us know. We are committed to making it easier to take public transit and we think the new features we're providing will help with that goal.

Thanks again to all the staff at Pierce Transit who were involved in making their schedule and real-time information available.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Best Week Ever

Last week was a good week for OneBusAway. Let me tell you all about it:

First, we launched a redesign of the website. Though I make no claims to a glowing future in web design, I hope you'd agree that it's an improvement. At minimum, it makes it easier for us to highlight our ever-growing list of tools.

New Design for OneBusAway

We also found out last week that our research paper "OneBusAway: Results from Providing Real-Time Arrival Information for Public Transit", to appear at CHI 2010 in Atlanta, was a best paper award nominee (given to the top 5% of submissions). There is hope that I may graduate after all! Check out the paper at our research page.

In other research news, we also learned that we're going to be receiving a number of Android phones from Google that we plan of using for a big user-study we're working on for this summer in the Rainier Valley under the guidance of Transportation Choices Coalition. More on that later.

Finally, I'm happy to announce that OneBusAway was a winner at the annual Washington Technology Industry Association awards, where we took home the prize for "Best Use of Technology in the Government, Non-Profit, or Educational Sector". More details can be found at the WTIA's website.

WTIA Winner

All told, it was a busy week for OneBusAway (and I'm not even counting the hours spent hacking preparation for what's coming this week). Thanks to all our users for making us such a success!