Better Transit Information

Adam Kotsko correctly observes that improving the job mass transit agencies do of conveying information to the public is one of the most cost-effective ways to make service more useful to people. After all, a bus route that nobody knows about doesn’t help anyone.

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As he observes, this problem tends to get particularly bad in smaller cities. The reason, I assume, is that public sector agencies usually only do a good job of customer service if someone for some reason makes it a particular point of political emphasis. And in a small city like his example of Kalamzoo, the bus system is probably a sufficiently marginal phenomenon that nobody wants to raise it.

The good news is that thanks to GPS and smart phones, we’re now living in a golden age in terms of what it’s possible to accomplish in this regard. The NextBusDC iPhone ap can figure out where you are, which bus stops you’re near, which lines stop there, and when the buses are coming (not just when they’re scheduled to come, but actually when they’re likely to show up) thanks to GPS transmitters on the buses. In general one of the best things a city can do these days is simply open information flows up so that third parties can develop interesting applications. If Google can access your city’s public transit scheduling data, then people can use Google Transit to figure out how to get where they’re going and your agency doesn’t need to worry about coming up with a better map-making program than Google’s. But by the same token, if some rival firm does invent a “better than Google” mapping program, they’ll be able to access your data too and launch a competing product.