No Google Transit for TTC: Giambrone

At yesterday’s Toronto Transit Camp I was fortunate enough to speak with TTC chairman Adam Giambrone. I doubt that Giambrone was able to get a bite to eat, there were so many people wanting to speak with him. We spoke mostly about the new TTC website, whose design will apparently be supervised by the TTC’s IT department. That’s a mistake as far as I’m concerned, as I feel that the role of ensuring the winning company does its job properly should be contracted out. Frankly, I had no idea the TTC even had an IT department with that kind of experience, although they are expanding so maybe that will change if it’s not currently the case. I hope that some of those in charge of the TTC’s IT were at the camp, but I have yet to hear of any attending.

The TTC chairman confirmed my forecast of 8 months for a new website, giving an estimate of 6 to 8 months. That figure does not include the transit planner, which will be phased in for 2008. The planner has been budgeted for, although Giambrone said that the TTC has not yet decided whether it will be created in-house or will be out-sourced. He did state, however, that they were not looking to Google Transit due to fears that their service might require integration costs and ongoing fees in the near future. I hate to say this, but it seems like a wise move to forgo Google Transit for now. There have been complaints that Google Transit for Portland, whose system was included in Google Transit’s launch, provides sub-optimal trips which cost riders more than the ones provided by TriMet’s own planner.

I recently discovered that the TTC considered a trip planner in 2004 but shelved it due to integration issues and budgetary constraints. When I asked what was different now, Adam Giambrone cited increased outside pressure and an acknowledgement by TTC management that a planner was necessary. Before it can be created, however, its IT department must amalgamate transit data into one database, confirming my suspicion that it currently exists across a number of systems.

Speaking of Portland’s TriMet system, Bibiana McHugh, TriMet’s GIS Manager, is a huge fan of using open source for public transit. McHugh has proposed that TriMet and other public agencies in the Portland metropolitan region ‘organize [their] data and make it universally accessible and useful.’ This relates to both what I’ve talked about with open-sourcing the TTC website, and with the Transit Camp’s open TTC session. I hope that the TTC is paying attention and taking notes.

Update: Bibiana McHugh has left a comment which addresses some issues mentioned above.

  1. Bibiana McHugh

    February 8, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Hi Ian – thanks for the mention. I’d like to clarify a few things.

    Since its beta release in December 2005, Google Transit has greatly improved (as most beta products do), and the Google Transit team continues to make enhancements and refinements as it broadens its base and responds to customer feedback.

    Hopefully, we’ll see more applications like this so it can be just as easy for the public to plan transit trips, as it is to get driving directions in almost any city, from a variety of websites, to suit a variety of users.

    Transit Agencies, like Toronto Transit, can make this a reality by making their data accessible in a standard format, with little to no costs incurred. The Transit Data Feed Spec, released by Google with a Creative Commons license, facilitates a common way to share transit data and its very simple and easy to generate. Many agencies and developers are already adopting and supporting it.

    Another benefit to adopting a standard way of sharing data is sharing applications. TriMet will be releasing the TimeTable Publisher application that uses the Transit Feed Spec as one method of input, so if you are providing your data to Google in the Transit Data Feed Spec, you could easily publish your timetables in a variety of formats including web publication. I anticipate that more applications will follow.

    Rather than replace an agency’s existing trip planner or compete with it, we’re finding that Google Transit is reaching a broader audience and encouraging people to take public transportation.

    Bibiana McHugh
    IT Manager of GIS
    TriMet, Portland, OR

  2. MJDL

    February 13, 2007 at 1:41 am

    I wonder if the TTC will ever have anything as useful as the London Tube Journey Planner at Put in two termini of your journey, e.g. Basil St. and Marble Arch, and you go through a 3 stage process that ends with a complete schedule page with a variety of custom generated PDF maps (entire journey, starting point vicinity, ending point vicinity) that you can quickly print; they should really have a online map mash-up as well, for people who just want to refresh their transit knowledge, but I can appreciate the point of giving the transit patron something to put in their hands.

    The TTC could even monetize the service by selling listings to nearby businesses which would appear on the online or generated maps.

  3. mike

    February 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    The TTC needs to let Google make the trip planner for them, it would be much cheaper than them doing it in house. The TTC needs to also replace all ticket agents with an efficient machine.

  4. Tom

    June 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I just tried to use Google transit directions for a route in Toronto and quite surprised to get a message telling me that Toronto is not covered the service. I was very surprised.

    Personally, I think it’s great that Google supports this functionality – right up there with driving directions – and it certainly would make bus travel simpler.

    Why would the TTC not jump on something like this?

    Sorry if my questions is already answered – I haven’t read all of the material above.

  5. Matthew

    September 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    The TTC does not know HOW to design a trip planner. Their website is simply HORRIBLE, the PDF map is so painful to use, it is almost a cruel joke.

    I am currently relying on this website’s layer of the pdf on top of google maps, as well as for planning my trips.

    However, even those options are not perfect solutions. The map layer is still confusing, though a considerable improvement over just the PDF. is an excellent resource, but it is still somewhat buggy and difficult to rely on, which is understandable considering they are doing the best they can.

    Google understands how to map a transit system, they have done it for other cities, they clearly are more than capable of handling this. Google also has the IT infrastructure in place, and they are experts at providing a reliable service.

    Now, by contrast, look at the TTC’s IT skills. Wait.. what IT skills? Have they lost their minds? they want to manage the trip planner themselves? is this a case of maintaining their ego or just some excuse to questionably waste money on consultants?

    As a frequent user of the TTC, I cannot understand why they continue to live in the past. Please, leave this sort of thing to people who understand how to implement it. The TTC is a transit company, not an organization with expertise in complicated mapping (no, the hack job of a map they publish is not in line with today’s needs).

    Google is capable and willing to run this. Why the hell is the TTC so flatly refusing to work with them? it’s been years since I heard they would not be going to google, and I’m still wondering what the hell they ARE doing? The “beta” trip planner on their site as of right now is junk, practically useless.

    Hi there TTC, if you are reading this, for the love of all that is sane, wake up and let the experts do the work on this. Why are other cities so far ahead of us on this? Why can I not type in my starting address, destination address, and see a clear description (with a customized map) telling me how to get there? I should have to spend 15 minutes pulling my hair out. It is often easier to just get on the bus and see where it takes me than use your website.

    //end rant

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