Email of the Week: Dept. of Blindingly Obvious Ideas

From a frequent commenter:

I was thinking about transit websites, and I had a thought that struck me with how blindingly obvious it is, and I’m surprised for some reason I don’t think I’ve seen any transit agency do this before. On the main timetable page, they will generally have a menu to let you pick a route, and give you the timetable and map for that route. But those are leaf pages, they don’t link to anything other than back to the menu. My thought is, the web is all about links, so why not make the structure of the timetable pages reflect that of the route network, and for any route to which there’s a transfer, provide a link to that route’s timetable right there on the page? With fancy web design, I’m sure even more elaborate things can be made, like letting you see what transfers you can make for a particular run of a route.  But in general, this seems like one of those things that can greatly enhance the public’s understanding of how the transit network works, and I’m surprised that I don’t recall seeing this anywhere before.

If you know of a transit agency that does this, please comment with a link to a sample timetable page!

24 Responses to Email of the Week: Dept. of Blindingly Obvious Ideas

  1. ant6n December 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Winnipeg comes to mind. They have links around (to stops, routes and runs), and maps.

  2. dorkmo December 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    most light rail lines have this on wikipedia on the right sidebar

  3. JN_Seattle December 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    This is a good idea for trip planning that is done by hand with multiple timetable web pages. Providing a head start on this task, the King County Metro (Seattle area) trip planner provides semi-equivalent functionality to this idea in that the suggested trip itineraries created at have hot links to the timetable pages of the particular multiple routes needed for a complete trip if one wants to tweak the suggestion or find fall back times to account for late buses (it happens).
    Inside the Metro web, one sees crossing bus routes at transfer points on the map, but the route numbers are not “hot” for clicking to jump. But there is a place to enter another route number for a jump at the top of every timetable page. See for example

  4. mike December 5, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    It’s not a particularly great site on pretty much any relevant level, but New York’s MTA does do this on its subway route pages; see for example the F line page and click on one of the other routes (but not the airport symbol!) in the column on the right of the big long table.

  5. Pete (UK) December 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    The Merseyrail network map allows you to click on any station to get train times. At interchange stations you can get the times for conecting routes:

  6. Chris B December 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    The OCTranspo advanced planner shows your itinerary in the form of a map, and lets you click on each stop and get other routes from that stop

  7. Alex B. December 5, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Baby steps. I’d love to see WMATA put their timetables in plain HTML for a start, instead of their maddening maze of PDF files – files that always seem to have some sort of corruption so that they don’t open in a Firefox window…
    The graphic design they use for the maps within the timetables is also mostly useless – unless you already know the route.

  8. Alon Levy December 5, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Okay, this is why I, as well as nearly everyone else in this forum, comment on blogs instead of work as a transit planner.

  9. Jarrett at December 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Alon. Would you care to expand on that? Jarrett

  10. Alon Levy December 5, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    We don’t think of ideas like that. (Obviously, you do, of e.g. the frequent map, which is why you are sort of a transit planner. But most of us don’t and aren’t.)

  11. Jarrett at December 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    "Sort of a transit planner"!  That's the nicest thing I've been called all day!  😉

  12. Alon Levy December 5, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Well, you do planning, but you work as a consultant… I’m not sure how else to describe it.

  13. Danny December 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    I know this isn’t a perfect substitute for what you are talking about, but Google Transit comes pretty close…in fact, Google Transit is about 50x more useful than anything I have ever gotten from a transit agency.
    However, what is really needed is truly modular transit information…directions for those that need directions, maps for those that need maps, timetables for people planning future trips, frequency, cost, speed maps that help people plan their lives, etc.
    To quote Alfred North Whitehead, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” We need all the information possible about transit routes, but we need it available in forms that minimize the amount of thinking we need to do to use it.
    To paraphrase that into something more abrasive (more my style), if your agency hasn’t released its GTFS feed freely to developers under a fairly liberal license yet, you are deliberately postponing the advance your city as a form of civilization.

  14. JB December 6, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    This isn’t exactly what was asked for, but I think it comes very close and represents the kind of information “transport users” want. In Vienna, Wiener Linien and Verkerhsverbund Ost-Region (VOR: a regional partnership among transport providers) have produced a very nice little application ( that can be used on you computer or on your mobile device. It provides all the standard stuff — timetables, real-time data including relevant information on vehicle type (e.g., ULF trams for elderly and disabled persons; if you haven’t tried this app you really must see the graphics showing arriving trams and buses — it is cute yet useful), delays, ability to search for how to get from point A to B with walking directions to the nearest stop and including required transfers (map shown), etc. It really has everything you need to use the system easily and effectively.
    But it actually does much more than simply provide information about routes and times as mentioned above. For example, it provides information on theaters (including what is showing, a link to the web page if available, phone numbers, address, etc.), Christmas Markets, museums, shops, restaurants, etc. And all of this can be obtained based on what is near the destination or as a way to decide on your destination. There are two features that I find very nifty. First, it provides historical details of the origin of each stop’s name! Second, you can purchase an SMS ticket using your mobile device (either a single or day ticket; the former can be upgraded to the later instantly without an additional fee and the later is cheaper than at a ticket machine — the cost for a single is higher than using a ticket machine although you get an additional 30 minutes of travel time). While this kind of information is not necessary I think it is critical in promoting use of the PT system for commuters and occasional users — you need to convince people that PT is the easiest way to accomplish a particular trip for point A to B.
    All this being said it does lack two important aspects. One, you can not simply click on a stop dislayed on a map and see what is happening (you can select a stop for real-time data and see what is departing and arriving and when). Two, it doesn’t integrate the S-Bahn (regional trains operated by ÖBB that crisscross the city) into the system.

  15. Tom West December 6, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    Here’s a possible topic for you Jarett: the ideal transit agency website.

  16. Ted King December 6, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    @ Alon + Jarrett – Re : several posts starting w/

    Okay, this is why I, as well as nearly everyone else in this forum, comment on blogs instead of work as a transit planner.

    I think of Jarrett as if he were a sort of honey bee instead of a fly trapped in transit agency amber. He goes from city to city cross-pollinating them with useful ideas (and delivering a sort of virtual naval jelly).

  17. Dave December 6, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    @JB re qando. I’d like to look at this on my PC (not on my phone), but I don’t know how to unpack the .gadget type file which I downloaded from the site. Any ideas?

  18. Wad December 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    @Tom West:
    Here are two:
    One of the things I’ve done on MetroRiderLA was put a transit spin on major league sports team playoffs. I match up the teams just as they are seeded in real-life, and I compare them against the transit options available at the home city.
    One of the games involves comparing the transit systems’ websites. It’s subjective, but I base it on both functionality (how much information is provided, whether schedules are posted in HTML, how a new rider could glean information easily to use the system, etc.) and style (visual appeal, ease of navigation, etc.).
    With a good sampling of big-city systems for the series, I’ve seen a lot of bad, some good, some that could be improved with a few tweaks. Boston and Portland, however, have become the standard of excellence against which other transit sites are judged.

  19. CLAUDE Guilhem December 7, 2010 at 3:54 am #
    On this schedules the connections are easy to read.

  20. anonymouse December 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    It’s not a matter of “connections are easy to find”, it’s a matter of having a literal HTML <a> element somehow associated with the transfer point which links to a timetable page for the other route(s) available at that transfer point. This is important Precisely because this is something that can’t be done with paper timetables, and because the link is one of the fundamental elements of the web. But it seems like transit agencies are just using the web to put their paper documents online, possibly with fancy presentation, rather actually do something new and interesting that actually uses the web to its full potential and gives riders information that they would not have otherwise had.
    And yes, I’m sure building something like this is possible with Google Transit data, and I may even do so at some point. The dire state of mobile access to local transit websites is my main motivation to develop my own.

  21. John W December 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    The interactive bus map on Transport for London’s site has this – though it’s not obvious at first.
    When you’ve entered a destination click on the line or one of the stops – then you’ll be able to see what’s available for overlapping and connecting services. Useful if you know where you are going, but not easy to plan out a route this way. I still don’t find it anywhere near as intuitive as the spider maps (eg:
    Regarding some of the points above – for a cash-strapped agency, it does seem like a good use of limited resources to produce the same document for web that they need to make anyway for what will be posted at the stop or handed out as a leaflet. Especially if this means you can get effectively download a custom timetable for any stop in the system. New media-specific presentation of the same info, while potentially more useful, does involve more work and funding.

  22. calwatch December 12, 2010 at 12:42 am #

    On the other hand, the paper-style timetables are essential for downloading onto laptops and smartphones, trip planning from outside the region, and for a general understanding of the system. I find systems like Portland, Denver, and Seattle, that use one-off PDF files for each day and each direction (six in total) very annoying, and I would argue that PDF timetables should come BEFORE web-only timetables.

  23. Scott December 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    While I agree that taking something made for print and just slapping it on a screen is totally not helpful and often times makes the document harder to use than the original printed version, I don’t see huge benefits to adding an HTML link to every connection so long as the connection is shown on the map. If you are trying to get someplace Google Maps or whatever is going to give you the quickest route and several alternatives in about 5 seconds. It also allows you to graphically move your path around if you feel like it.
    For example, I don’t see how this will benefit from links to other routes:
    As you might have guessed, I live in Chicago and we have pretty frequent bus service (which might impact my opinion). Other than knowing when lines start and stop operation I don’t see how knowing how long you can expect to wait will help.
    I guess I would like to know what benefit you see in the system you propose over a system map or something like Google Maps?

  24. Daniel Sparing January 2, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    Also, living in Europe, it can be frustrating that given a travel advice one can hardly look at the whole vehicle journey or all departures from a given station. A good counterexample, as always, is the (HAFAS) timetable planner, which does give such links.