Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Problems for T-Mobile SMS Users

If you are a T-Mobile customer and a user of the OneBusAway SMS interface, you've probably noticed that the service has stopped working in the last few days. The issue is that we use a free, ad-supported SMS service called Textmarks. T-Mobile recently raised the rates they charge services like Textmarks for sending and receiving SMS messages such that Textmarks can no longer afford to send free, ad-supported messages to T-Mobile customers.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do about this. OneBusAway has been lucky that we don't have any recurring monthly costs thanks to a generous donation of servers + hosting from UW CSE. Hopefully we can find some way to maintain SMS service that fits within the limits of our non-existent budget ; ) If anyone has any creative ideas or thoughts on potential solutions (SMS-email gateway, SMS via Twitter, etc) feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Help Report Data Issues Directly from Your IPhone

Every schedule update from our local transit agencies brings changes and, invariably, errors. I don't fault the agencies for that, since managing a fleet of hundreds of buses across thousands of stops is a complex task.

However, we as riders have a unique opportunity to help find and fix the errors we encounter on a day-to-day basis with the systems we use. Who else better to find the bugs with bus schedules than riders? While OneBusAway has always had multiple ways that you can use to contact us when you have problems, we want to make it even easier.

In the recent 1.1.0 update to the OneBusAway iPhone app, we've added in-app problem reporting. You can submit issues about stops, buses, routes, and real-time arrival errors. When you submit from within the app, it adds valuable context information about time, location, stops, and trips that help me debug these problems on the back end.

How do you report a problem? Look for the "Report a Problem" button when looking at arrival information for a stop:

From there, you can report issues about a stop or a specific bus. When it comes to issues with the real-time arrival information, it would be great if you could submit a problem every time you have an issue (up to a week's worth of reports), as it will help me separate one-time problems from recurring problems that need the full attention of the agency.

I hope that these tools will make it easier for you to identify problems and faster for us to fix them. We hope to expand this functionality to our other mobile apps as well.

Not seeing your bus downtown? Interlined route issues are now fixed

Interlined-routes, a bus that enters downtown as one route and leaves as another, are a recurring issue with the data from King County Metro. The symptoms occur when you are looking at your stop on OneBusAway, not seeing the route you care about but instead seeing a bunch of routes that don't seem to actually serve the stop. The latest schedule update was no exception, and I'd say 90% of your bug reports have been about that issue.

I'm happy to say that I've hopefully fixed the latest batch of schedule data. It took a bit longer than usual, but hopefully it will make OneBusAway work better for a lot of you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why so much downtime lately?

If you've been using OneBusAway much in the last two or three weeks, you've probably noticed a lot more connection errors, Fail Bus sightings, and general downtime. I don't want to waste your time with a ton of excuses... but here they are ; ) The general problem is a combination of:

1) An on-going server upgrade and flakiness in the backup server.
2) More users than we've ever had before, especially a new bump when UW came back in session.

I know #2 is a problem any website would like to have and our traffic is a drop in the bucket compared to what some of you engineers out there deal with on a daily basis. That said, we're getting past the point where a single machine can reasonably handle the load. The new server that should help with the traffic is ready and waiting to be put into action, but I'm unfortunately in NYC for the week, so there may be some more bumps this week.

For the more technically-oriented among you who have been curious after I posted a plea for help, here's my theory about what's going on:

1) Terracotta, which I'm using to share session / state information between multiple Tomcat instances, is crashing after a segfault in the JVM. I'm not sure what's causing the segfault, but the last time I had JVM segfaults, it was due to bad memory in the machine. It's something I will check when I'm back in Seattle.
2) The Terracotta crash causes my Tomcat instances to hang as well. In some cases, the Tomcat instance seemed to spin up a bunch of threads in response to the Terracotta crash, which at up the non-heap memory available to my JVM instances and lead to the thread creation error messages I posted earlier.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall Service Revisions: Specific Issues

A number of agencies have updated their schedules this morning:
I've tried to update OneBusAway to reflect the latest changes, but there are a number of issues you should know about:

King County Metro

1) Currently, trip destination labels are missing from King County Metro routes. There was a typo in the data from KCM that caused the problem, but I'm rerunning the data and should have it up in a few hours.

2) Until the MyBus system is updated, real-time data isn't available for all routes yet. Looks like it's been updated.

3) Real-time data doesn't yet appear to be available for the Rapid Ride A Line to developers yet. Will keep you posted when it becomes available.

Pierce Transit

1) It appears that Pierce Transit's updated schedule data actually goes live on Sunday morning instead of Saturday morning, so there's currently nothing showing up for Pierce Transit routes. Hoping to fix that soon.