Support OpenTripPlanner, get transit on the iPhone
The next version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 6, won't include Google Maps, which means users won't be able to get transit directions. Nonprofit organization OpenPlans is hoping to fill in the gap, and you can help by supporting their Kickstarter effort to fund an open source iOS trip planner.
In addition to the features in current mobile trip planners do, the proposed iOS trip planning app will combine bicycling and transit, so you can plan a bike trip to transit, and know about bike sharing locations. You can't compare the travel time and wait time between a bus and CaBi on Google Maps today, but you could with this tool, called OpenTripPlanner.
Apple's move could actually be good in the long run if it means that more good-quality apps for trip planning pop up, such as this one. It's not ideal that Google is the only major game in town for trip planning apps, for many reasons.
For one: Google Maps doesn't include all agencies. Some, including Arlington's ART and Fairfax Connector, haven't been willing to sign a contract that says the counties will pay to defend Google if, for some reason, someone sues about bad transit directions (which has never happened, as far as we know).
As I've argued before, it doesn't make sense for Google to require this. Greater Greater Washington didn't have to sign a contract with Google to be included in Google Search; transit data need not be any different.
While Google Maps has an API which lets people build tools on top of the maps, the actual geographic data underlying the maps is not public. You can't download a database from Google of the locations of streets and use that to design a different map, or a bike routing app. You can use OpenStreetMap, but OpenStreetMap is only as good as its data.
OpenStreetMap works sort of like a wiki for mapping. The more apps use OpenStreetMap, the more people know about it, and the more people will contribute geographic facts back to the commons. We all benefit when this open trove of mapping data is the best it can be.
Some transit agencies, meanwhile, have only given their data to Google, and still resist releasing it publicly. This hurts everyone else who wants to build an innovative transit application or visualization. If there are several different trip planners that have significant numbers of users, transit agencies will have strong reason to give out their data to everyone.
OpenPlans is the organization which also just created BikePlanner.org. It's a nonprofit, and all of their code is open source. I've worked with folks at OpenPlans on a number of projects in the past and have found it to be a terrific organization with the most genuine spirit of collaboration and public service.
Coders can also build on OpenTripPlanner to make their own innovative tools. When I was working on the Arlington transit data projects like Transit Near Me and real-time screen experiments this past winter, we came up with an enormous list of applications that could use transit data and/or trip planning. Some of them could have built directly on OpenTripPlanner, except they required features that aren't yet built.
One can also use a trip planner to do more than just plan trips; intern James Wong used it to compare bikeshare and transit for thousands of trips. Feed routes en masse to a trip planner, and you can get a good sense for things like gaps in transit service or average travel times.
We need to move from a world of trip planning where there is just one, closed tool to one with more open data, open source code, and collaboration. And it's great if Google continues to improve their trip planner at the same time.
Therefore, if you have an iPhone or iPad and want good transit directions, consider supporting OpenTripPlanner. Even if you don't, consider supporting OpenTripPlanner because of all the benefits it will bring beyond iOS. The kickstarter ends on Saturday, so chip in today.
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