On The Media

Swipe Right For Tinder Users' Exact Location

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tinder is a dating app that allows users to search for potential matches based on proximity. There's been a lot of talk of the app's popularity with Olympic athletes, which the media seems to be eating up. Yesterday, some security researchers published an article saying that they had figured out how to use Tinder to get users' exact locations.

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Transportation Nation

Snow Plow Tracking Site Too Popular for Its Own Good

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow plows in the Boston area, February 9, 2013. (Photo by John Byrum)

Snow was still dumping down on Boston Friday evening when the city had to pull down its public website for tracking snow plows. Within a couple of hours of snowfall the site had over a million requests from users. Boston's total population is 625,000.

"[The site] couldn't handle all the traffic," said John Gulfoil, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino. "It was hurting our efforts to actually track our own plows," he said.

The city had built the GPS-enabled tracking website so the public could watch along in real time as plows made their way around the city street by sodden street. 

After the blizzard of 2010, New York City was trapped in piles of snow. Cars, buses, even ambulances were abandoned in streets that went unplowed for days.  stranded on unplowed streets and citizens crying foul that they couldn't tell when and where the cleanup was coming. In the aftermath, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets." He vowed to track each plow using GPS in the future. (More on that below.)

The blizzard this past weekend that hit Boston hardest, brought with nearly three feet of snow and the first real test (that we are aware of) of a GPS-managed snow plow fleet in a major snowstorm.

Boston has had a private GPS tracking system in place for smaller storms since. This was the first time the public was able to watch the plows move in real-time along with city officials.

The catch is that the same GPS system that populated the dots on the public website map also powered the Department of Public Works operational maps at its command center. The flood of interest from the public was clogging the servers and preventing plow fleet managers from doing their jobs. 

The Department of Public Works mustered private contractors to join the city fleet in removing more than three feet of snow from city streets. The GPS tracking system has been in place for years and helps hold the drivers accountable because managers can see where they are. "They can't hide," as Gulfoil puts it. “Hopefully next time there’s a major storm we’ll have all the bugs worked out,” Gulfoil said.

New York City had a similar website in place, though with much less snow to contend with -- and citizens out sledding and such in higher numbers -- the PlowNYC website proved less popular and less problematic. Keith Mellis of the NYC Department of Sanitation didn't have traffic numbers immediately available. "We had no interruption," he said. "It works." 

You can see where plows went in NYC hour by hour on this visualization of the PlowNYC data extrapolated by plow-watcher Derek Watkins.


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Mica's District Decision, Toronto's Transit Plans, GPS Units Talking to Insurance Companies

Friday, February 10, 2012

Top stories on TN:
GOP House Works to Undo Reagan Legacy on Transportation (link)
Port Authority Pushes Back on Scathing Audit, But Acknowledges Need for Reform (link)
New York State Makes It Easier for Vets to Get Commercial Drivers Licenses (link)
Poll: Sixty Percent Think Stickers on Cars are Okay (link)
European Cities Allowing Bikes to Run Red Lights (link)
After Red Light Cameras Are Turned Off, Houston City Council Approves Big Settlement With Vendor (link)

(photo by miss604 via flickr)

Port Authority audit and the governors: reality check. "Little about this political bill of indictment seemed properly hinged to reality." (New York Times)

The Senate's transportation bill restores the commuter tax benefit. (The Hill)

An internal review finds no conflicts of interest but cites shortcomings in the State Department's environmental review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project. (Los Angeles Times)

In the U.K., GPS units are communicating with car insurance companies to monitor driver behavior. (Marketplace)

A reclaimed Los Angeles bus yard begins life as urban wetland. (Los Angeles Times)

Toronto's city council voted for light rail over the mayor's subway transit plan... (National Post)

...but the mayor's not ready to give up just yet. (Toronto Star)

D.C. no longer requires parallel parking skills on its driving test. (Washington Examiner)

Congressman John Mica -- the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- will announce what district he's running in today. (St. Augustine Record)

And: TN is #10 in a list of top 25 transportation twitter feeds. (UrbanLand)

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Transportation Nation

High Court Ruling on GPS Tracking Could Affect NYC Taxi Suit

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NYC Taxi (photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) A local attorney will argue a case using the recent Supreme Court decision banning law enforcement from using GPS to track suspects without a warrant to challenge the use of data gathered from GPS systems in cabs as evidence. He's defending a taxi driver in a lawsuit against the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The driver, Mr. Robert Carniol, is one of thousands of cabbies who were accused of overcharging passengers by pushing the out-of-town rate on their meter in 2010. He was found guilty in an administrative hearing and lost his license. But attorney Dan Ackman is arguing in State Supreme court next month that officials obtained GPS data about his client and others illegally.

"Taxi drivers did not consent to be followed around individually 24 hours a day," Ackman said.

He said Monday's Supreme Court decision against law enforcement using GPS to track suspects is relevant, because the information in both cases was seized without a warrant that presents an illegal search and seizure.

"When you're seeking someone's livelihood by taking their license, as the TLC is, to me that's also law enforcement," Ackman said.

But Diana Murray, senior counsel with NYC Law Department, said "the courts have long recognized that 4th amendment privacy protections aren't applicable to highly-regulated industries such as the pawn shop and like taxi industries. The GPS in cabs is only active when the driver is on-duty and is deactivated when the driver is off-duty."

The city is seeking to have the case dismissed.

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High Court Ruling On GPS Tracking Could Affect City Taxi Suit

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A local attorney will argue a case using the recent Supreme Court decision banning law enforcement from using GPS to track suspects without a warrant to challenge the use of data gathered from GPS systems in cabs as evidence. He's defending a taxi driver in a lawsuit against the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission.

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Transportation Nation

Bronx To Get Real-Time Bus Info

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

(photo by bitchcakesnyc via flickr) Following on the heels of Staten Island, the Bronx will become the second of New York's five boroughs to get real-time bus information.

New York's MTA is currently installing GPS units on the 1,025 buses that serve the borough. The agency said the service will go live sometime this year.

In a press release, MTA head Joe Lhota heralded Bus Time as a time saver (and caffeine-enabler). "Knowing how far away your next bus is means you can spend more time with your family or more time at a coffee shop instead of waiting at a bus stop in a state of uncertainty," he said. "About 90% of our customers carry text-message enabled cell phones, so this is a big step forward to help make the lives of our customers a lot easier."

This technology debuted on Brooklyn's B63 last year and went live on all buses in Staten Island earlier this month.

The MTA's press release enigmatically states: "the next borough will also come online in 2012," leaving two more boroughs -- which the MTA says will get Bus Time by 2013.

Want to read more about Bus Time? TN's field test of Staten Island's system is here.


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The Takeaway

Supreme Court Rules Against GPS Tracking

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police violated the 4th amendment when they placed a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days. In his opinion on the case, Justice Anthony Scalia wrote that the use of GPS constituted a "search" and therefore requires a warrant. This ruling may have an impact on other cases where GPS was used, as well as other types of surveillance mechanisms.

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Transportation Nation

Chicago, New York to Make Snow Plow Locations Live During Storms

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A NYC plow working after the post-Christmas blizzard. Azi Paybarah/WNYC

Mayors of both Chicago and New York said Tuesday they'd be making the locations of snow plows public during winter storms via public websites that will show GPS tracking information.

While the idea of a snowplow tracker isn't new -- it exists in Montgomery County and Howard County, Maryland, just to name a couple -- New York and Chicago would be the first major cities to deploy this technology.

Mayor Bloomberg hit once of the lowest moments of his mayoralty last winter when New York ground to a halt during the blizzard of 2010. It was particularly frustrating for outer-borough residents when streets outside of Manhattan went unplowed for days (while the Mayor recommended they take in a Broadway show.)

Also galling: city officials were increasingly unable to tell members of the public (or even elected officials) when streets would be cleared.

In an information vacuum, WNYC developed a plowed street tracker, based on crowd-sourced information. Later, Mayor Bloomberg promised to add GPS to all snow plows. But that information wasn't made available to the public. Yet.

Enter Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who wasn't even in office last winter),  a notorious type-A techno-geek, announced with some fanfare Tuesday that city would set up a Plow Tracker. "During major snow cleanup efforts," according to a press release, " the City will activate the real-time 'Plow Tracker' map, allowing the public to track the progress of City snow plows and make snow removal efforts more transparent."

Looks like Emanuel may have upstaged Bloomberg (himself something of a type A techno-geek)

Asked at a press conference (on an unrelated subject) Tuesday whether New York would be making snow plow location information available on a public website, Mayor Bloomberg said:

"Yeah, we have a whole plan we'll get you very quickly.  We've been enhancing what we do.  I don't know that it necessarily improves our ability to plow. We have the routes and we're gonna do it, but it does let you see where plows went and when they went there, and that's all. Our best thing so far is my strategy so far. Look outside - streets are clean, no snow."

While Chicago's website is now live (, New York City officials cautioned that it's not yet clear what the New York website will look like, or when it will be up and running.


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New Yorkers to Get Real-Time Snow Plow Information

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city will be setting up a website so residents can track the locations of snow plows during snow storms. The city began installing GPS devices in snow plows after last winter's disastrous "Blizzard of 2010."  Word of the plan came after the city of Chicago announced a similar "plow tracker" site.


Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NJ Town Battles Light Rail, London's New Bus Design, and DC Pilots 'Live Near Work' Program

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top stories on TN:
Romney: We Have to Invest In Infrastructure: Video (Link)
Actual Debate Breaks Out At NY MTA Board Meeting (Link)
Maryland To Offer Preferential Funding For Smart Growth (Link)
FAA Unveils New Pilot Fatigue Rules (Link)
What it Takes to Keep San Francisco's BART Rolling (Link)
Your TN Transportation and Infrastructure Holiday Gift Guide: California Edition (Link)

Heatherwick Studio's new London bus design (photo by Iwan Baan)

WNYC's Kathleen Horan will explain the recent NYC taxi legislation on today's Brian Lehrer Show -- tune in at 10am. (Link)

Tenafly residents say 'not in our backyard' to NJ Transit plans to bring light rail to Bergen County. (

DC is piloting a program that incentivizes living near work. (WAMU)

Is DC's mayor slacking off on his commitment to building new bike lanes? (Washington Post)

Inductive charging for electric vehicles will get a trial run in Berlin. (GizMag)

Nissan gained some insight into the durability of its electric car, the Leaf, when about two dozen of them were destroyed in the tsunami that ravaged Japan in March -- their batteries were intact, and none caught fire.  (New York Times)

Check out a new design for London's famed double-decker bus. (Article in Dezeen; more pictures here.)

A new GPS device uses green routing to send drivers on the most fuel-efficient route. (FastCompany)

The rise in obesity in the U.S. means that the Coast Guard has had to reduce the passenger capacity of Washington State's ferry system, the nation's largest. (AP via New York Daily News)

New York's Bridge and Thruway authorities would be folded into the Department of Transportation if the state acts on preliminary suggestions from a government efficiency task force. (Albany Times Union)

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Transportation Nation

New Jersey Adds GPS to Snowplows

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last year was a brutal winter in the Northeast. The record snowfalls left New York's Mayor smarting from criticism that the city was unprepared. After an early and costly snowfall already this winter city and state agencies around the region are getting ready for a smoother go around this time. One move in particular, is that New Jersey announced Wednesday that it plans to add GPS devices 0nto 700 snow clearing vehicles to better manage the fleet when the white stuff comes.

"Last year the storms were just relentless," Joe Dee of the New Jersey state Department of Transportation tells Transportation Nation. "It was just constantly sending out the trucks, sending out the private contractors."

Last year NJ spent $48 million on removing snow. $10 million is budgeted for this year. To make that process more efficient, eventually the N.J. DOT will tag 3,300 agency vehicles and mobile equipment units for year round fleet management.

The DOT says real time information about roadway conditions and progress crews are making will make their work more efficient.

“We are excited about this new technology and anticipate that it will improve the teamwork among our crews, supervisors and managers that is so essential to a successful snow-fighting operation,” N.J. DOT Commissioner James Simpson said.  “Storms are dynamic events, and GPS adds another layer of communication that will enable us to quickly adapt our plans to conditions that can change rapidly.”

Additional information on road conditions will also come from about 180 sensors at nearly 40 locations around the state. The sensors, installed after last winter provide data including temperature, wind speed, and whether pavement is wet or dry to help storm mangers decide when to take anti-icing or snow clearing measures.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: LA Increases Night Service on Trains, Chicago Area Buses To Drive on Highway Shoulders, Passenger Attacks on Transit Operators On the Rise

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Top stories on TN:

A new bridge across Lake Champlain opened years ahead of schedule. (Link)

Van driving "rebalancers" keep watch over Capital Bikeshare stations. (Link)

The mass transit commuter tax break is set to expire at the end of the year. (Link)

Image courtesy of Pace Bus

Los Angeles is increasing night service on three rail lines to boost ridership. (Los Angeles Times)

Some buses will be driving on the shoulder next week in the Chicago area, when the region pilots a program designed to speed commuting times. (Chicago Tribune)

San Francisco weighs bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue. (The Bay Citizen)

Nearly a third of all drivers said they've almost fallen asleep while driving at least once in the last month, and the problem gets worse when the clocks change. (Washington Post)

Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, which will hit the market in 2015, is expected to retail for about $138,000. (Autopia)

Attacks by passengers on mass transit operators are on the rise, and some say rage over fare hikes is the cause. (Atlantic Cities)

Does Salt Lake City's commuter rail have a higher accident rate than average? Signs point to yes. (Deseret News)

NYC is moving forward with plans to use a San Francisco-like "smart parking" system. (Streetsblog)

The US Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether police need a warrant to attach a GPS tracking device to a suspect's car. (NPR)

The Staten Island borough president says toll relief for NJ-bound drivers may be on the way. (Staten Island Live)

The long-delayed plan to overhaul the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in northern Manhattan is gaining traction with a flurry of leases for its expanded retail space. (Wall Street Journal)

Flood waters in Bangkok are inching closer to the subway. (CNN)

The architecture critic for the New York Times waxes poetic about bike lanes, writes that the city environment is "an urban glory best absorbed, I have come to realize, from a bike."

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Transportation Nation

Google Adds Real Time Transit Info to Maps

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

"There's no more need to guess when to leave."  That's the bold claim from Google today, as it announced the addition of real time transit information in Google Maps for four U.S. cities and two in Europe.  Instead of making a mental calculation about which train to take, or wondering whether to wander out in pouring rain, you can check when all the trains or buses near you are actually going to leave, not just when they are scheduled to leave.

The data come from GPS devices embedded in the actual buses, and other real-time data collected by the transit agencies.

Boston is one of six cities to get Google real time mapping along with San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Madrid, Spain and Turin, Italy. The data includes service delays, just like, but the real innovation is that you can see, right on Google Maps, when the next bus is coming at any given station, just by clicking on the station icon.

So when you click on Boston's Park Street T station this pops up. You see bus routes, and T lines. Click on that, and you get the departure times for all the lines. This is "huge news," Josh Robin, Director of Innovation and Special Projects for Boston's MBTA.

Departure times aren't always so frequent as these are from downtown Boston on a weekday rush hour. On weekends or late nights some buses run only once an hour. So imagine you are eating at a restaurant, or getting ready to leave your friend's house. You can pull out your phone, bring up Google Maps, which will know where you are, and click on the nearest station to see that you have to leave right away, or that you can kick around for another 20 minutes. And if you have to decide which of two lines at two stations to take, you'll now see which is coming first. Now imagine if it were raining outside. Handy, and it all makes riding transit more convenient, which makes it more likely that more people will do it.

Boston has made GPS data available to third party program developers since 2009, so there are already a handful of mobile apps that answer the "when to leave question." And they're popular, at least when it's raining. In Boston, when there's bad weather, one in four bus riders use existing transit apps that have real time arrival data.

But the new service means a big expansion of who uses the data. "With Google having a massive user base in the hundreds of millions, this is the next big step towards making real-time data truly ubiquitous," Robin told Transportation Nation.

Google told the Boston Globe that 200 million people use Google Maps from their phones every month, that's 40 percent of all Google Maps searches.

You can already get transit directions on Google Maps, in most cities, just as you've been able to all along. And there's still, which does a great job, MapQuest and other map programs that have their own versions of the service. What the real time data adds is a feature that tells you when to leave your house right there in the directions.

So, this search, for San Francisco directions done at 5:24 p.m. suggests I leave 20th and Mission at 5:30 p.m. In essence saying, sit tight, keep reading Transportation Nation for another six minutes before heading out. A valuable service indeed.

Live in one of the six cities? Test it out. And tell us how it's working in your area. Are the times actually accurate? Are the directions correct? Is it helpful? Let us know.

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Transportation Nation

Boston: Upwards of 1/3 of Riders Use Transit App Tools

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photo: MBTA/Next Bus

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  About a year ago, I did a story for Marketplace on how Boston is releasing the GPS data on buses to the private sector -- and how you can see where all its buses are, at any moment.  Just got this email update from Joshua Robin,  Director of Innovation and Special Projects at the MBTA:

"We finished rolling out bus data systemwide last fall (on 187 routes) launched a pilot subway data feed, and are planning to put out our pilot for commuter rail in the next few weeks.  All told there are more than 30 apps that have been built as a result of us releasing all this info.  On snowy days this winter we were seeing upwards of 1/3 of riders using the tools which is pretty amazing considering how recently we rolled out, etc."

On February 1, which Robins called the "worst day of the winter," 100,000 bus riders used the app.  He says about a third of riders continue to use the app.

More recently, we looked at Roadify's efforts to crowdsource transit and parking info.

Any other areas getting 1/3 rider usage of GPS data or crowdsourcing?  Let us know.

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The Takeaway

Jonathan Coe on 'The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim'

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

In today’s world, it’s not unusual to wake up alone, drive to work alone, and eat our meals alone. It’s expected that most of our communicating will take place through machines, rather than face to face. And it’s not unusual for us to develop relationships with those machines, whether they’re our cell phones or GPS devices. But what does all this isolation do to us? And does technology make our isolation better or worse?



MTA Pilot Program Lets Riders Use Phones to Track Buses

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Riders of the B63 bus from Cobble Hill to Bay Ridge through Park Slope and Sunset Park can now track their bus by mobile phone or computer.


Transportation Nation

Bloomberg: GPS Devices Will Be Installed on All Plows

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Saying his pilot project installing GPS devices -- essentially low-cost walkie talkies-- on snowplows was a success, NYC Mayor Bloomberg says all plows will get them.

From today's Mayoral snow debrief: "One of the GPS -equipped plows got stuck, and the driver was just able to touch a button and alert his garage and also talk to the other snowplow drivers who were in the neighborhood."

Sanitation Commissioner Doherty says the devices, costing $40 a piece,  should be in all 1700  trucks and plows by winter's end. No word from City Hall on whether the public will be able to see the data in real time.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Tries GPS to Track Snowplows

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A NYC plow working after the post-Christmas blizzard. AZI PAYBARAH/WNYC


(John Keefe, Transportation Nation) As meteorologists forecast more snow for New York City, City Hall plans to track where the streets are being cleared -- with GPS-equipped plows.

In the post-Christmas blizzard two weeks ago, cars, buses and ambulances were stranded throughout the city, and many streets remained unplowed for days. City officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were widely criticized for their response to the storm.

At a press conference this afternoon, Bloomberg said last time, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets."

In a pilot project that will be tested if the snow flies tomorrow, GPS-enabled plows -- many of which are modified garbage trucks -- will roam the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood, Flatbush and Ditmas Park, and also parts of Kensington.

Bloomberg said the tracking devices have become so cheap that eventually all 1,700 plows could be tracked, providing information not only on snow removal but also salting and trash pickup. Drivers of municipal vehicles in other cities, and in NYC taxi cabs, have fought such tracking systems as an invasion of their privacy.

Whether snowplow location information will be made public remains an open question. The Mayor's spokesman, Stu Loeser, said in a phone interview with TN that the city could expand the number of plows with GPS's. If it goes well tomorrow, he said, that could happen as soon as next week.  As for making the data public in real time, "we wouldn't rule it out."   In other cities, public access to real-time tracking data lets residents know when they can expect plows and buses.

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The Takeaway

For Russia, American GPS Just Won't Do

Monday, December 06, 2010

A rocket carrying three satellites destined for Russia’s global positioning system, GLONASS, crashed into the Pacific Ocean yesterday. Russia has spent $2 billion developing its own equivalent to the U.S. GPS system and other countries are following suit, including China's COMPASS and the E.U.'s GALILEO. Why is it so important for countries like Russia to develop their own Global Positioning Systems? Why does Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insist on his country's "satellite navigation sovereignty?"


Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Unintended Consequences of the Tarmac Rule, NJ Transit Not Eager to Repay $271 Million, and Cabbies Help Tweak GPS

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wisconsin gov-elect Scott Walker's response to Ray LaHood: fix roads before you build rail. Also, some friendly advice: "All across the country, in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, the voters chose new governors who are opposed to diverting transportation funding to passenger rail. I believe it would be unwise for the Obama administration to ignore the will of the voters." (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

New Jersey is not exactly whipping out its checkbook to repay $271 million to the Federal Transit Administration for the canceled ARC tunnel project, because "NJ Transit does not agree that the issues are as clear cut as portrayed in the FTA letter." (Asbury Park Press)

US airlines are stranding less passengers--but canceling more flights. Unintended consequences of the tarmac rule? (Bloomberg via MPR)

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 41% of drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point. (Los Angeles Times)

How can you improve GPS directions? Ask a cabbie. (Good)

Lansing wants to dip its toes into bus rapid transit. (Lansing State Journal)

Czech transport minister loses his license for 6 months for driving without valid license plates. (Czech Happenings)

Good Magazine wants to know: What is the best bus route in America?

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