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Google Transit still "very close"

WMATA CEO Richard Sarles said a launch of trip planning on Google Maps is "very close," but declined to give a specific timeline. This project has frustratingly remained "very close" for more than a year.

Photo by Cavan Moon on Flickr.

A December email from Victor Grimes in WMATA IT said they "anticipate going live by mid-January." That deadline has long passed. the agency was saying the exact same thing a year ago.

Integrating with Google Maps will provide big benefits to Metro. Many people already have Google Maps on iPhones and Android phones, and visitors to DC or infrequent riders use it to navigate. Putting bus stops on the maps and providing trip planning right from that interface will make riding transit easier and advertise its existence to many wouldn't otherwise know about options or find them too daunting.

I know that technological projects sometimes take longer than expected and problems can crop up. However, WMATA management has continuously remained very tight-lipped about their lack of progress, and did not respond to a request yesterday.

It certainly seems as though this is simply not getting much attention at all. If it is, and there are just unforeseen issues, or if Google is the one being difficult, it would certainly behoove WMATA to explain these facts.

The agreement was signed in July, and the data made high-quality enough to release publicly in the fall. Now, according to Sarles, they are working to prepare the data to upload to Google.

In response to a question from Councilmember Tommy Wells at the oversight hearing this morning, Sarles noted that Metro routes and schedules do appear on Microsoft's Bing. What's so much harder about getting on Google?

A comment from Chris Zimmerman last July continues to seem most prescient. He said this project seemed to be "asymptotically approaching" completion. So far, that's still as true now as it was then.

Disclosure: I used to work for Google, but had no involvement with Google Maps. I no longer own any Google stock and have no other financial interest in Google.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Is WMATA on Bing because Bing put it up there themselves?

If they are using GTFS to run their transit data (possible I guess) then they could have just downloaded the data from WMATA and added it.

Regardless it's just ridiculous that this is taking so long.

Also, is it possible on Google Transit to pull up a bus route and have it show you the route and stops drawn with lines/points on the map?

by MLD on Mar 10, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

We know already, wmata bad, google our savior. If google really wanted the data, how about pitching in some consultant time to help.

by m on Mar 10, 2011 10:08 am • linkreport

@MLD: Bing uses Metro's publicly available data. This is great, but it doesn't help out the most riders like Metro should.

Google has terms and conditions that 99% of transit agencies have seen fit to sign and have been able to get their data working properly. WMATA got Google to modify the terms and has signed an agreement, but hasn't been able to get their data working properly.

Bing's market share is about 10%. Google Maps is integrated into the two fastest growing mobile platforms, Android and iOS. Having Bing maps give you transit directions is like using postscript when everyone else is using PDF. Maybe it's not the best analogy, but the point is that Google Maps is what everyone is used to, and while Bing Maps is technically capable and theoretically compatible with most devices, it's not what's standard.

Bing maps is a way for Metro to check the "open data" box without having to the thing that would help riders the most.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 10, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

The Bing data sucks. I just did a sample route, and it misplaced Mt. Vernon Square onto I Street. As well, it looks like it functions by drawing straight lines between each stop. I'm unsure if that would seriously screw things up, but on a long bus route it might mess with the timing. Better than nothing? Maybe, but not too much moreso than the WMATA tools.

by OctaviusIII on Mar 10, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport


You can use the NextBus system to draw bus routes on a Google map. It also updates the bus locations in real time

by ErikD on Mar 10, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

When I can show up in rush hour and wait 15 minutes for the next red line train... how can schedule data possibly help anyone?

by B.O. on Mar 10, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

@OctaviusIII: That might be that Metro isn't providing shape files for routes. If all they do is provide the coordinates of stops, then all Bing can do is connect the stops with straight lines. There's a way in the GTFS standard to include the shapes of the lines you're supposed to draw, but that would probably be a big, tedious task (or if Metro has a nice GIS database, a dump of some data, I'm not very familiar with the capabilities of GIS.)

by Michael Perkins on Mar 10, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

I think they do have the shape information in one way or another, since its embedded into the NextBus information.

by ErikD on Mar 10, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

I thought the latest problem was that WMATA's data are full of errors and don't meet Google's quality standards. So, Google has to spend time cleaning it up before release. Is that not the case?

Also David, you should disclose the fact that you are a former employee of Google and own a large amount of their stock.

by Phil on Mar 10, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

FYI, the Nextbus data is far from perfect. For example, due to data errors the D2 line hasn't worked with the Nextbus app in months.

by Phil on Mar 10, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

Phil: You are incorrect. I own no Google stock any more. I've added a disclaimer to the end of the post to that effect.

by David Alpert on Mar 10, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

Maybe Google can fix the most simplistic components of Google Maps first before they add WMATA transit options. For example, why does every address in the city refer to "Washington, D,C., DC"? Enough people noticed the error that it was even referenced in a recent "The Office" episode.

In addition, did you know that the Smithsonian American History museum and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum are located in the same building?! According to Google Maps they are... it's just pathetic.

by Adam L on Mar 10, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

It felt like CNBC for a second there.

by aaa on Mar 10, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Keep at em Dave. We need this.

by TGEoA on Mar 10, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

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