UPDATED 4:50 p.m.: Google Maps now publishes real-time data for the NYC subway. Not for all subway lines, but it's another step in the march of technological progress that transit advocates hope will make more people ride the subway, and enjoy the journey more too. Salt Lake City was added to Google Maps today as well.
The NY MTA had previously released the data on its website, smartphone apps and through publicly available data for other people to use for making apps. Now the two main transit routing websites have both integrated the real time information, so a passenger, or prospective passenger, can see exactly which train is coming when -- not just when it is scheduled to arrive -- and if they happen to have a choice between the two lines with real-time data, they can even compare departure times and choose the line accordingly. Or more conveniently have Google Maps routing functions do the choosing.
That increases trip and trip planning efficiency and just as important, knowing the departure times reliably can also increase perceptions of efficiency, which makes people more likely to choose transit over other modes according to a 2011 study from the University of Chicago, which makes this point with charming academic-ease:
"The provision of real-time transit information might serve as an intervention to break current transit nonusers’ travel habits and in consequence increase the mode share of transit use. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that real-time transit information may be more successful in increasing transit ridership if combined with facilitating programs that enhance commuters’ opportunities to be exposed to such systems before using them."
Like Google Maps. Or HopStop, or other transit routing that can integrate this data.
Google first added real time data in six cities in 2011. Google spokesperson Sierra Lovelace said, as of today, Google transit routing is now in 800 cities. Real-time data is only available in the handful of those where the local transit agencies make the data available, including Boston, Honolulu, San Francisco, London, Madrid, Torino, Italy, and as of today, New York City and Salt Lake City. "While it's not all 800, it is many, and we're always looking to expanded that offering," she said.
Lovelace says there are one billion monthly unique users of Google Maps (including Google Earth and all map services), half of them on smart phones. While Google didn't have a breakdown of the data by city or by feature, there is certain to be a sizable audience that now has access to NYC's real-time data through a platform they already check regularly.
Note the "real departure times" below the times in the screengrab above, as TN reader Steve Vance and Chicago transportation writer, points out, that line is what indicates the difference between real-time and scheduled arrival and departure times.
The NYC subway only releases real-time data on seven of roughly 25 lines (depending on if you count the shuttles and the temporary H train). For now it's only on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 42nd Street Shuttle lines. The other lines have a different switching system which does not produce real-time data in a way that can be exported. There is no timetable for upgrading the rest of the system.
H/T Second Ave Sagas
When consumers can see how much power they're using minute by minute with in-home "smart meters," they typically cut back on energy consumption -- at least a little. The Dutch are experimenting with in-car meters that tax miles driven on the theory that it will cut down on driving. Would that kind of information affect day-t0-day transportation decisions for transit riders too? Transit riders now have a new source of data on environmental impact: trip planning website HopStop now includes carbon emissions calculations in their travel directions.
HopStop CEO Joe Meyer said the company received thousands of user requests for a feature that quantified the environmental benefits of public transit. Now, right next to the estimated trip time, you'll see your CO2 savings compared to driving. "At the end of the day, we’re a source of information," Meyer said. "This is giving people additional context around the information they are already coming to us for."
HopStop is using a proprietary algorithm based on data from the EPA and the World Resources Institute to estimate the savings for each trip compared to driving solo. While there's no shortage of carbon calculators out there -- including several specifically about transportation and even public transit including one by New York's MTA -- HopStop is injecting this environmental information right in the moment when people are choosing how to travel.
But some are unsure that this will make a big impact. "I doubt if this one will have a substantial effect [on changing travel behavior]," says Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health Wealth and Happiness, which is about how people can be guided into better decisions without restricting choice. "There are lots of factors that go into the choice of a mode of transport -- time, expense, convenience, etc. -- and carbon emissions is just one, even for those who are sensitive to such things. So, [this new feature is] a good thing, but unlikely to shift much behavior, especially in the short run."
HopStop's Meyer says he isn't doing this to shift how people travel, he's providing what his customers want -- more information. “We’re just telling you it’s a more environmentally friendly way to travel… compared to driving, and here’s the saving."
According to New York's MTA, emissions from a single passenger car trip can be five times more than the alternative transit trip, and as much as 8.25 times more if you factor in dynamic effects. MTA research analyst Dana Coyle explains: "There are three components of the carbon savings of transit use as we see it. The first is mode shift... shifting from a vehicle to a different mode [like] transit or walking or biking. The second is congestion relief. By removing cars from the road, the vehicles that are left can drive more efficiently... so you are getting better gas mileage. The third part is a land use factor, this one is a little bit tricky." She explained that if transit allows for denser neighborhoods, then you can avoid carbon emissions by, say, walking to the grocery story on your way home instead of taking a separate car trip.
That's system wide. For each individual decision, the new HopStop feature is more like the Dutch in-car meter, or an in-home smart energy meter. When home electricity usage is presented in real time, it reduced energy consumption by 7 percent on average, according to a review of experimental studies of "smart meters." This kind of awareness matters on the margins: to shut off the A/C when a fan might do, or to remember to turn the lights out, or stop blow drying your hair. It was also tied to paying more for extra electricity used, which isn't the case with transit.
However, HopStop users clamoring for the carbon calculator may use the information in another way: to brag. This information may become the kind of data that lets people advocate for their already firm choices with more conviction. Look out, transit-accessible cocktail parties: straphangers can now boast about another way they're better. And, because the new feature will also compare the carbon emissions of biking/walking (which have zero carbon emissions in this calculator) with transit, it could make the eco-conscious bus rider hoof it a little more frequently.
Even if carbon isn't the top determinant between driving or riding, it can't be a factor at all unless it's measured.
HopStop is making this available on the website immediately, and on all mobile apps within the next two months.
The trip planning website HopStop.com is transforming itself into a lifestyle app for transit riders. Besides transit directions, its bread and butter since 2005, it now offers features like bike directions and carshare and taxi reservations.
This is yet another example of the trend in transit trip planning apps and websites to integrate more complete and customizeable route options that incorporate walking, bikes, real time arrival information and, now, carshare. It's also a sign that HopStop is feeling the heat from the hundreds of local trip planning apps that are popping up as more and more transit agencies make their schedules and data available to software and mobile app developers.
For instance, one of the Hop Stop's new features is biking directions, which they currently only provide for New York City. Google Maps began introducing that in beta last March and MapQuest added it this February. But in other areas, HopStop is ahead. It now combines carshare locations with reservation services at Hertz Connect (but not Zipcar). There's also taxi directions with fare estimates through Limo.com, and an option for city to city public transportation routes via Amtrak.
In the past, where HopStop has gone, other app companies have followed. So it's worth noting that HopStop's new features integrate Facebook and Twitter, allowing users to broadcast where they are, or will be, and have HopStop stick instructions right in there for others to join up. HopStop was the first major trip planning company to develop software that made using transit easier. Now that the field it helped create is getting crowded and increasingly competitive, expect to see more roll-outs of complete offerings like this one.
One tricky element of transit mapping directions has been the walking portion of a trip, specifically distinguishing which roads are best for pedestrians when that differs from driving directions.
Mapquest said in a statement that their new transit and pedestrian options allow "walking travelers to be routed down one-way streets, pedestrian malls, through parks and along designated paths" and " provides train departure and arrival information, helpful hints to alert train passengers, and station search information in designated cities."
The transit feature works in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Boston. MapQuest worked with San Francisco-based, geospatial data and mapping company, Urban Mapping, to develop its transit option, and additional city content is planned for 2011.
HopStop works in 27 cities and metro regions.
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