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Create your own personal transit screen at Hack Day

Earlier this year, Eric Fidler created an open source transit information screen that shows real-time Metro and bus arrivals, and bike availability at Capital Bikeshare stations. Now, you can make your own.

The author and his screen.

Recently, I designed my own screen using the code Eric created, and mounted a tablet computer on the wall of my apartment to be my personal transit screen, as seen here.

With a glance at the screen, I can see arrival times for the Metro and bus routes I use. It saves me time, replaces various mobile transit apps, and reminds me and visiting friends about options we might otherwise overlook.

Whether you're a coder interested in creating transit-information technologies, a web designer, or just a transit enthusiast, you can build one of these for your own space. Or for your friend, relative, apartment or condo building, school, church, or favorite bar.

A transit screen layout on an iPad.

I've organized a Transit Screens Hack Day on Saturday, November 10. Bring your computer, and everyone who participates will go home with a personal transit screen.

You can run it on any web browser. If you have a tablet, either Android or iPad, bring it and we'll help you get it running on your tablet too.

After your screen is set up, join us in hacking to make it better meet your needs. What about adding Car2Go support? A bus arrival notifier? Weather information? More transit agencies? Improved support for individual users? A mobile version? If you're a web designer, what about adding more flexibility to the interface? Improving the display and layout of the screen? I've put some suggestions on a bug tracker, but we want your ideas too.

If you can code in PHP, you can check out the code now. If you know Python or web design, you'll have a chance to put those skills to work too. If you mostly code in other languages, like I do, it's not a problem—we'll help you get started. And if you can't code yet, you can help us debug, design and document.

The Hack Day will run from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday, November 10 at 1501 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100, in Rosslyn. It's 2 blocks up from the Rosslyn Metro and just across the bridge from Georgetown. Please register here.

Matt Caywood is a DC resident and co-founder and CEO of TransitScreen, which brings live transit information displays into public spaces all over the world. He co-founded Mobility Labís Transit Tech project and is an advocate for open transportation data. 


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Very cool. are you ok with people coming who just want to "use" you people who aren't programmers?

by Richard Layman on Oct 19, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

Dope. I was thinking the same question as R. Layman, also.

Another question, is the code such that you can just install a program on your tablet that will provide all this as pictured with an address entered?

by H Street LL on Oct 19, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

Why doesn't Metro put that on the screens installed on the Kiosks in the stations or replaced the outdated PID screens

by Davin Peterson on Oct 19, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

Dope indeed. I'm not a coder, but I can do design and debugging.

Building a GUI around the various parts might be the most useful thing to do because it would let anyone build this for wherever they want. If non-NextBus agencies have their schedules in GTFS form they could be integrated, which is something missing in the original.

by OctaviusIII on Oct 19, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

The exciting thing about this is that any place could cheaply put something like this up: every shop, bar, deli, etc could have a display letting customers know at a glance how they can get where when.

I don't know if it's possible, but integrating information on nearby taxis from mytaxi or black cars from uber would be amazing.

by Lucre on Oct 19, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

H Street LL & Richard & others,

As long as you're willing to participate in the hack day, stay around and help out to the best of your ability, we welcome everyone. Sure, we're hoping for a force of hardcore web coders, but we'd really like to build a community of engaged users and activists!

by Matt Caywood on Oct 19, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

is the code such that you can just install a program on your tablet that will provide all this as pictured with an address entered?

A personal transit screen is basically a web page -- it runs on a web server provided by Mobility Lab.

You build the screen using the web interface. It's not quite as simple as typing your address, but we (Andy Chosak, Eric Fidler and I) have developed some tools that make it almost that easy.

When you're done, you just load the web page into any "kiosk mode" app on your tablet, and it runs automatically.

by Matt Caywood on Oct 19, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

can you add Car2Go? And maybe Uber?

by CJ on Oct 19, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

@Lucre - In theory, any transportation service that provides an API for getting their data could be added.

Capital Bikeshare works already.

Car2Go has an API and we'd love to see that added.

Someone should correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, Zipcar, Uber, and myTaxi don't offer APIs yet.

by Matt Caywood on Oct 19, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

Would love to do this from Union Station. Can MARCTracker go in there too?

by Kev29 on Oct 19, 2012 4:40 pm • linkreport

@Kev29, the answer is yes if you can help us write a screen scraper for MarcTracker -- I don't believe they offer a real-time arrival API.

The best local reference I know of is David Alpert's survey of which transit agencies offer open data from January 2012. See the rightmost "Tracking API" column, and the comments.

by Matt Caywood on Oct 19, 2012 5:06 pm • linkreport

Hi I notes something in user_model.php in the function validate. you are calling $user->username = $row->username;but username doesnt exits in the database i changed it for $user->username = $row->email; and start to working.

I just wanna point that.

by Jose Pecho on Oct 22, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

I'm sad this is over what for some is a holiday weekend.

by MDE on Oct 22, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

OMG this is awesome. The entire post is scary to me, as I am not a developer or really have any understanding of anything in the post except for the possible end result, something I've been fantasizing about: a screen (on my phone) with the bus stops and metrorail stations I normally use plus Car2go and bikeshare info. I am constantly having to choose among these four modes (plus my personal bike) and switching between applications (Spotcycle, Car2Go, DC Metro Transit) isn't working for me. Combining these into a single display to rule them all would be something I'd be happy to pay for. Good luck, programmers! You're doing important work.

by Ward 1 Guy on Oct 22, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

@Jose -- Nice catch, I have that bugfix too. If you can submit a github pull request, I'll take your patch, otherwise I'll add mine ASAP.

@MDE -- Sorry! We hope to host more hack days in the future and hope you will be able to attend.

by Matt Caywood on Oct 22, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Is Capital Bikeshare info available in real time?

by Jack Love on Oct 22, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

Doh! Should have read the article more closely.

"Nevermind." -E. Latella.

by Jack Love on Oct 22, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

If anyone wants to go but doesn't have a laptop, a few loaner laptops are available -- please sign up for the event and then click "Contact the Organizer" button to let us know that you will need one!

by Matt Caywood on Oct 22, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

I missed the hack day in November.... any plans to do a round 2?

by Brian McLaren on Dec 1, 2012 8:19 am • linkreport

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