Muni / SFMTA, San Francisco, Transit Maps

Google Transit, Meet Muni — Muni, Meet Google Transit

Although Google Transit has provided trip planning information and embedded stops/stations for BART, Caltrain, and VTA for quite some time, until now, information for the Bay Area’s most heavily used transit agency — SF Muni, of course — has been noticeably absent, other than marking the subway and accessible surface rail stations. In a press conference yesterday, though, it was announced that at long last, we may enjoy the fruits of a partnership between Google and the SFMTA.

When searching for directions between two locations within San Francisco, the “take public transit” link provides directions using all Muni routes, including buses. And while there are some smaller issues to work out — for example, correct labeling of the K-Ingleside versus the T-Third — it appears to handle transfers between Muni routes and between Muni and BART/Caltrain with relative ease. Trip schedules are based on Muni’s often-fictional timetables, but Google would like to eventually expand the service so that trip routes are calculated on the basis of real-time vehicle information, rather than using static, published schedules. Of course, real-time information is already available locally via NextMuni and NextBus, but Google’s eventual goal would be to use real-time data on its maps for potentially all transit agencies across the nation and beyond, and not just for those that utilize NextBus technology — so real-time integration is on hold. At the moment, the actual locations of San Francisco bus stops are not embedded into the Google Maps, but this feature will hopefully be added soon. Stops would be viewable upon zooming in to the street level, as is the case for BART, Caltrain, VTA, and other agencies around the country.

What does this mean for Transbay Blog’s homegrown, one-man transit mapping project operation? Must The Man always emerge victorious? Seriously, though: while this new feature will certainly save me a lot of work inputting stop information, I do not plan on giving up on this project quite yet. There are still opportunities to use the custom maps as a means of filling in gaps and providing useful information that would not be included in the official Google Maps, and I expect that the project will evolve in this direction. One of my personal favorite features of the transit stop maps is the ability to relate “lay of the land”-style information that does not get reported in standard trip planners — information like Muni Metro accessibility points, and entries and exits to subway stations. Other possibilities include mapping limited bus stops and strategic points to transfer between lines. Lastly, I believe that station guides (with transfers organized by destination, as has been partially implemented on our custom BART map) are a good way to illustrate connections between regional rail and local transit routes. Implementing these features would, of course, require far less time than mapping all stops out from scratch — but they would still supply useful information to ease transit riders’ experiences, particularly when used in conjunction with Google Maps that are filled in with bus stop markers.

Do you have ideas for other supplemental information that is mappable and would be useful in conjunction with an official Google Map of Muni stops? Any impressions about the Google transit directions? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Google Transit, Meet Muni — Muni, Meet Google Transit

  1. This is great news. I first heard about Google Transit a couple months ago and was horrified when I did my first searches to find out that it didn’t include Muni or AC Transit info. So it sent me on absurd routes using BART that honestly would have been quicker to just walk.

    Hopefully AC Transit will be the next to be included. Also, it seems like they should just be able to sync with NextBus, since NextBus covers hundreds of bus systems and thousands of bus lines across the country and is constantly expanding. It seems silly and redundant to come up with a separate real-time tracking system. If Google wants more coverage, they should partner with NextBus to make this happen.

    Posted by Becks | 25 April 2008, 4:54 pm
  2. These maps haven’t been implemented more quickly because Google partners with the individual agencies. The technology itself isn’t hard to apply, once they get the necessary data from the agency. If we could add just AC Transit, SamTrans, and GGT, we’d have most of our bases covered in terms of buses and regional rail across the region.

    Syncing with NextBus is a natural extension, but the goal there, just like with the transit stops, is to implement something that could be easily applied across the board, rather than coding a scheme specific to NextBus. But once Google gets around to replacing the timetable schedules with real-time data, it will basically be unstoppable.

    Posted by Eric | 25 April 2008, 5:09 pm
  3. Now, if only they could get TransLink working, then the Bay’s mass transit network would start to make sense!

    Posted by countZ | 27 April 2008, 10:14 pm
  4. I don’t know how much value by linking to real time information. A lot of people use trip planning tools to plan trips way ahead of time, not everyone has iphones and wireless internet connections.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 28 April 2008, 8:25 pm
  5. ^^^ And because of that, I do think there is value in presenting the sort of information that was being provided in the maps on this site, like transfers. But there doesn’t seem to be much point in duplicating every stop location. And right now, they’re providing timetable schedules, so if the choice is between timetables and real-time data, the latter is more useful. It would basically put the NextMuni map out of business, but then again, that isn’t exactly the epitome of clarity, or even error-free, for that matter.

    I’d be interested in hearing opinions as to the potential value in seeing the configuration of stops on just one or a few lines at once — rather than just seeing a grid of bus stops as you’d get on a Google map. They would certainly integrate easier into the transit wiki project that you’re working on, Andy.

    Incidentally, I have many line maps that were partially started or largely complete prior to the official announcement about the Google transit information, so I will likely be posting more line maps in any case. People might find them be cool to play around with.

    Posted by Eric | 28 April 2008, 9:05 pm
  6. Real time data requires coordination between different vendors. I think NextBus and Google may be interested to work together on this.

    I don’t have a problem with offering real time data as an option, but real time is not useful to plan trips way ahead of time.

    I do like to see lines. I think it is even better if it is released as KML files.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 2 May 2008, 3:28 pm
  7. Google is interested in working on it, but their vision is larger than NextBus — and it will have to be, as more and more systems make real time data available to passengers. As you said, having the option between real-time data and timetables for future planning would be the best option.

    Posted by Eric | 2 May 2008, 3:33 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Rescue Muni » Blog Archive » May Day Muni miscellany - 1 May 2008

  2. Pingback: AC Transit Joins the Google Transit Roster « Transbay Blog - 20 May 2008

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