Greater Greater Washington


Google and WMATA signed Google Transit agreement in July

Google and WMATA signed an agreement on July 22, 2010, to provide the Google Transit service, according to documents obtained via public information request.

Photo by buckofive on Flickr.

WMATA had previously stated that Google Transit was expected to go live in mid-January 2011, more than two years after Greater Greater Washington started a petition campaign to encourage WMATA to allow Google to display transit routing and schedule information.

The agreement appears to be based on the typical Google boilerplate agreement. Google is not paying WMATA for the use of the data, which was one of WMATA's early sticking points.

The indemnification paragraph from the boilerplate agreement appears to be missing, which means that WMATA would not be held liable for any mistakes caused by Google and did not agree to legally defend Google if they were sued. This was one of WMATA's biggest objections to signing the boilerplate agreement. We first reported that Chicago was able to remove this indemnification from their agreement.

Either party may terminate the agreement, unlike the boilerplate agreement, which only gives that option to Google. The agreement provides rights to both WMATA and Google where the boilerplate agreement only provides them to Google.

The agreement WMATA got looks like the best they could hope for. It's balanced and removed the features WMATA found most objectionable. WMATA's status as one of the largest transit agencies in the country allowed them to negotiate from a better position than most agencies.

I haven't been able to get an update on the actual Google Transit release date.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia. 


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Update: according to a source, the implementation is delayed until February due to data quality issues on WMATA's end.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 27, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

I have to ask this question again. Do people really find Google Transit useful? Sure, its pretty, but I find it much easier/quicker to use the WMATA tools.

by beatbox on Jan 27, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

I've used WMATA's trip planner and it spits out some really odd directions. Sometimes telling you to double back to go in one direction. Get off one bus to catch another going in the same direction. That sort of thing. I know a few agencies are using just Google for their trip planner because they cant afford the software packages for scheduling with the TP modules or those trip planners are just illogical.

I was wondering what was taking so long with the Google Transit for Metro and I figured it is with their scheduling software and data. They do a daily GTFS data dump which seems to just be the same data every day.

by Ken Con on Jan 27, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

@beatbox, it depends. I don't use it much because I don't travel, but I assume people who travel and use transit would like it because it's a common interface whereever you go. It's good for tourists and would be good for people who use transit infrequently.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 27, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

I'm a fan of Google Transit- particularly in that I find it doesn't nitpick over address formats as much as WMATA does. If I'm just going from rail station to rail station, WMATA works just fine; if I'm trying buses or need to type in specific street addresses: I always have issues. It's also pretty easy to quickly visualise my route as well as compare to alternate modes and routes; and Google Transit also provides non-WMATA transit info -- helpful for the suburbanites.

Though I'm somewhat curious to know what will happen to Trip Planner... will WMATA continue to keep it functional despite it being potentially redundant; or will WMATA opt to defer to private industry's tools?

by Bossi on Jan 27, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

@beatbox -- I live in Baltimore and would find it very useful for regional transit trips (MARC is already on trip planner).

by jfruh on Jan 27, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

I've tried Google Transit, but without MetroBus on it, it is worthless. I still have to rely on my knowledge of the local bus network and a tool that pulls in NextBus data.

by movement on Jan 27, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

@movement - right, that's what this article is about. Soon, metorail and metrobus will be on Google Transit.

I think the real value is that it integrates info from all agencies in the area. Sometimes, the best way for me to get somewhere is to take metrorail to circulator, or something like that. WMATA's planner won't display that option.

by drf on Jan 27, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

I still don't understand why Google isn't paying for this data.

by jcm on Jan 27, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

Google does a QA process of verifying the GTFS data before they allow it to be incorporated in their trip planner. This appears to be quite detailed; they verify that stop and station names follow the proper naming conventions, that stops are correctly geocoded, that schedule data is consistent with other published data, and that routes are coded to appropriately allow transfers,etc. They really put forth a lot of effort to make sure the data they are putting on their site is up to their standards, (Crappy data on Google Transit would reflect poorly on Google.)

It is in fact likely the data is already being imported into Google Maps, but is only accessible certain Google accounts that have been granted access to the "beta" of WMATA on Google.

by orulz on Jan 27, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

Also, Google has better integration with smart phones (in particular those on the Android platform). So you could be standing somewhere in the city, pull out your phone, click here you want to go and get transit directions (with a map).

@jcm: Because the data isn't really worth anything. And even if it was it's such a pittance it's not even worth talking about. It's also in WMATA's interest to make this information as accessible as possible to encourage ridership. Also, if Google paid here, they would set a bad presence for themselves paying for transit data and might have to pay for it elsewhere. So if WMATA made Google pay, then Google simply wouldn't do it.

by Steven Yates on Jan 27, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

Fun tidbit... Google recently began denoting the Jackson Graham Bldg with "Wamata",+NW,+Washington,+dc&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=600+5th+St+NW,+Washington+D.C.,+District+of+Columbia,+20001&gl=us&ll=38.897772,-77.019187&spn=0.00152,0.002401&z=19

(I already submitted the error)

by Bossi on Jan 27, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

@ Steven Yates If the data weren't worth anything, Google wouldn't want it and you wouldn't care if Google had it. And Google isn't the only company interested in pageviews.

by jcm on Jan 27, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

It's not that the data is worthless, it's that Google isn't willing to pay for it.

As soon as WMATA insists on getting paid for their data, they're out of the program.

Bing has had transit directions in DC for months. Does anyone use it? Is it integrated in your smartphone? Does anyone care about Bing?

by Michael Perkins on Jan 27, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

I suppose it's worth what someone will pay for it, and I don't see any other company particularly interested in the data. So, therefore it's not really worth anything.

by Steven Yates on Jan 27, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins-

When Microsoft and Yahoo joined forces, I'd have much preferred that Bing went with Yahoo's user interface... Bing is such a bother and is also very very picky with input formatting; I can never seem to get cross-streets to search well. Though I do like their Birds Eye photos & that it zooms quickly; but when it comes to search and ease of navigation: in my opinion, Google takes the cake. I just wish Google had Yahoo's database of neighborhood names and borders.

by Bossi on Jan 27, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

Also, as to the quality of the WMATA trip planner, I offer this:

by Michael Perkins on Jan 27, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

Are you guys seriously suggesting that it's better for train/bus schedules to be proprietary information that's only accessible to those who pay for it?

That's crazy. The data should be open, and people/companies should be free to do whatever the hell they want with it. This is how we encourage innovation.

by andrew on Jan 27, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

Kudos to Metro and Google for getting a deal, and double-kudos to Metro for getting the bad stuff out of the agreement. But minus a kudos for taking so long.

by Gavin on Jan 27, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

FINALLY. Gwad. I've been waiting for this as long as GGW has. While you can debate how much of a difference this really is from your home (I still think WMATA's direction search for Metro and especially bus is terrible), the real change is when you're out of the house. If I'm going to be out and decide to take the bus, I'll only even consider it if I'm near a route I'm really familiar with. I have no conception for what the possible routes are (and don't even get me started on the MASSIVE PDF route map I'd have to download to my smart phone on the fly -- not happening). Google Transit make it easy and fast to just get from here to there.

by Elizabeth on Jan 27, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

I don't know, I've run into some impossible routings with Google Transit and MTA Maryland Commuter Buses. Like transferring between three outbound buses downtown. I don't think that's legal.

by Mike on Jan 27, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

@beatbox: I was on vacation (Rio de Janeiro) and needed to figure out how to use the bus/metro system there, and Google Transit on my Android phone really saved the day. I didn't have to hunt down the official website of the transit agency and attempt to read Portuguese just to get where I needed to go. I was thrilled that they had the sense to allow their data to be integrated into Google Transit while we have been waiting for years. So yes, at least one person (two if you count the wife) finds Google Transit useful. I know you mentioned the WMATA planner, but that is a pain at times. Like others have mentioned, the routing on the official website is sometimes less than ideal or just far off.

by Stuart on Jan 27, 2011 6:10 pm • linkreport

How many of you people clamoring for Google Transit have ever actually had to develop a feed and work with Google to create the database? You all might consider it simple on the user end, but it can be hell on the back end. Also, Google Transit can't be updated instantly if there are sudden long term changes and reroutes that WMATA or any other transit agency would want to include. This isn't a sentiment shared only by myself, but other professionals as well, especially those whose schedule data systems were developed long before Google Transit even existed and have to do major changes to their data to even make it close to compatible with what GTFS requires.

by OTP on Jan 28, 2011 4:56 am • linkreport

@OTP understand that it's hard, but are you saying that wmata is unable to do something that nyc, Boston, SF and Chicago have been able to get through?

From what I understand, wmata uses a form of trapeze scheduling software, and trapeze offers a gtfs output module, and wmata is already outputting data to gtfs weekly, so we must be talking about some sort of data quality issue in the wmata database rather than an issue with exporting, right?

by Michael Perkins on Jan 28, 2011 6:06 am • linkreport

I don't know what software WMATA is using, I was speaking in general terms. Also, no matter what software is used to create the GTFS feed, Google Transit can only be updated once a week, so it can be up to 2 weeks depending on when the feed is taken by Google for changes to show up. Considering the extent to which people here complain about poor communication by WMATA, why do you want a trip planner that may not be accurate?

by OTP on Jan 28, 2011 8:44 am • linkreport

We already have a trip planner that may not be accurate, and yes, it'd be much better to have a trip planner on Google Maps that's accurate 99% of the time than to have people using Google Maps, especially on mobile devices, lacking a really easy way to get trip information.

by David Alpert on Jan 28, 2011 8:51 am • linkreport

I've been trying to develop a feed for Shuttle-UM at UMD but I've put it off many times due to schedule changes and lack of software to make it easier to create a feed. Also, it's a pain to geocode stops.

MTA uses Trapeze as well and the scheduling software they have a little bit older than the current version that is out, so at first, the feeds werent as up to par as they should have been and even now theres alot that needs to be done (such as service exceptions for holidays and other service changes).

The only thing about Metro that might pose a problem is the weekly track maintenance in which the schedule data changes just for Metrorail, but as for Metrobus, it shouldn't. The one suggestion I would give Metro is to create seperate feeds for bus and rail such as NYC and Philadelphia as to not have duplicate data being uploaded everytime.

by Ken Conaway on Jan 28, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

WMATA spent $$$ individually tagging every stop for NextBus.

If only we could just enter NextBus #'s into Google & get routes. Why not?

Separately, it would be great if Nextbus had a SMS interface; so you could text in the stop and get a response.

by George B on Jan 29, 2011 6:12 pm • linkreport

This is great news. It's about time.

For the skeptics: The biggest reason this is great is iphones and android phones.

I travel quite a lot, and I always use the map app on my phone to get directions. First of all, it already knows where I am, so I don't have to enter that. It's not only not very picky about address format, it will do searches right there for things like "mexican restaurant" and then route me to whichever one I pick off (it'll also accept contact names from your phone's address book).

That level of integration and features is something that simply cannot be matched by WMATA's website.

I mostly don't get to travel to places with good public transit, but when I've been in places like Chicago or Boston, having the transit directions in the same place I'm looking stuff up already has been very, very handy. I imagine it'll be equally useful for tourists and business travellers visiting DC (especially many who might otherwise find it too difficult to use transit at all).

I don't really anticipate using it that often myself when I'm home in DC, but it will still be very nice to have: like when I'm out with friends somewhere and I don't know the local bus routes.

Also, I think the concerns about accuracy are overstated. It's clear that both WMATA's app and Google maps return weird results sometimes, but a few glitches are probably unavoidable with such a complex data set. It's not a 99% of the time for either service. (Also, the fact that Google's consistency checks are reportedly causing WMATA to clean up the data probably bodes well for everyone. It may mean that both services will have somewhat better results going forward.)

Even IF Google were a little more glitchy (and it's certainly not clear that it is), I'd happily accept a few extra glitches in exchange for the vastly greater convenience of the integration with the device I'm actually going to use to get the results.

by jack lecou on Jan 29, 2011 6:38 pm • linkreport

It's now March and no update on Washington, DC google transit?

by Shawn Magnuson on Mar 8, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

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