Open data is making transit better, one app at a time

John Canfield

John Canfield’s start-up, Nimbler, just launched its fourth transit app.

John Canfield is the Founder of Nimbler and the VP of Risk Management at WePay. John previously worked at eBay, Zip2 and Creative Labs. John has a masters degree in electrical engineering from MIT and an MBA from Stanford.

I have been in the high-tech industry my whole career, working in start-ups and large tech companies. Over the years, the hot areas of innovation have shifted from the computers themselves, to packaged software, to the Internet, to mobile devices.

But I never heard people talking about transportation being a hot area of innovation until this last year.

Millennials are leading us away from the car-dominated America of past generations. They are looking for options. Start-ups and established players are offering an array new services — carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing, and transportation apps of every sort.

Transit agencies are offering real-time arrival times so riders can find the best route and get there with a minimum of waiting. Uber, a five-year old start-up, just was valued at $18 billion — one of the highest private valuations ever. Venture capitalists around the world are taking notice.

The Portland area plays a special part in this transportation innovation. In 2005, an engineer at Google started working on a skunkworks project to build transit directions into Google Maps.

The big problem was where to get the data. Transit agencies had schedule data in proprietary systems that varied widely from agency to agency. Even if the data were technically accessible, many transit agencies did not want to publish it for free.

TriMet had a different approach. They proactively reached out to Google looking to partner. The result was the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), which is used to communicate schedule data.

Google launched its transit directions in Portland first. Now, Google and other apps offer transit directions around the world using GTFS.

TriMet also innovated by investing in open-source trip planning. Traditionally, when transit agencies wanted a trip planner for their website, they worked with private software companies to build one just for their agency. TriMet instead started a project in 2009 with OpenPlans to build an Open Trip Planner for the Portland area that combines bike and transit directions.

The start-up I founded, Nimbler, just introduced its fourth transit app: Nimbler Portland. At the heart of Nimbler’s routing lies Open Trip Planner and GTFS. Nimbler offers transit directions, bike directions and combinations of the two. Nimbler also integrates with TriMet’s real-time vehicle location feed to provide real-time arrival predictions that minimize wait time.

Without the innovative approach of TriMet working with Google, OpenPlans and Open Street Maps, apps like Nimbler would not be possible. Because of TriMet’s leadership, apps around the world are benefiting and innovating using open source and open data for transportation.

One bent bicycle wheel. And one bruised butt.

Last September, Ian Sutherland got hit by a MAX train near Gresham and lived to tell the tale.

It was the route he took to work every day. It was like clockwork. Except that morning.

“I was pre-coffee, running late,” says Ian.

So he took a later train. When his train stopped, he got off, put his headphones on, clipped into his bike and set out across the crosswalk. Only he failed to see that he didn’t have a green signal as he usually did.

“Pay just as much attention around the MAX as if you were crossing a freeway. Or operating heavy machinery. Oh and don’t put on your headphones or mount your bike until you’re well clear of the tracks.”

“The other people at the crosswalk were standing there waiting. And I just kept on moving… on autopilot.”

It wasn’t until he was in the crosswalk that he saw the other train. The one that was speeding towards him only 20 feet away.

At that point Ian had two choices: either go for it and ride the bike as quickly across the tracks as possible, or turn back.

He chose to turn back by making a sharp left turn only to get his back tire stuck in the tracks. He unclipped from his pedals just as the train caught up with his backside and his back tire.

He was thrown many feet through the air but landed well.

He blames the accident on his “complacency.” Asked what he would tell his little sister about riding MAX, Ian chose his words carefully:

Ian Sutherland“Pay just as much attention around the MAX as if you were crossing a freeway or operating heavy machinery,” he says. “Oh, and don’t put on your headphones or mount your bike until you’re well clear of the tracks.”

That’s really good advice… Ian narrowly escaped a serious accident.

As a result of this incident, he has graciously agreed to be a model for our “Be Alert” safety campaign. We’re glad you’re OK, Ian!

Watch NewsChannel 8′s story about Ian’s accident at kgw.com

3 ways to kick off the perfect Oregon summer

This is our city’s time to shine. Summer is Oregon’s reward to its citizens for all those gray months. And it’s catnip to tourists who you’ll no doubt be entertaining.

Here’s a breakdown of just a few of the must-dos in Downtown Portland as well as a long list of the lesser known goings-on inside and outside of Portland that shouldn’t be overlooked.

1. PIONEER COURTHOUSE SQUARE EVENTS

It’s called “Portland’s Living Room” for a reason. During the summer it’s rare to find the Square not teeming with music, flowers or food.

flicks on the bricksSome of our favorite events include:

Noon Tunes. Otherwise known as the perfect lunch hour. Enjoy free concerts every Tuesday and Thursday from July 15 to August 14.

Flicks on the Bricks is great way to spend an evening downtown. Come see the Square magically transformed into Portland’s largest outdoor movie theater! Live pre-movie entertainment begins at 7 p.m. every Friday from July 26 to August 16.

Yoshida’s Sand in the City. No time to go to the Coast? Then come to Portland’s biggest beach party. Sand in the City takes over the Square on July 18-20.

Finally, Festa Italiana brings Italy to Downtown Portland with lots of spirited entertainment and food from August 21 to 23.

2. OPEN MARKETS

Our area is known for its outdoor markets and every year they just keep getting bigger and better.

Farmers Market Here are three that can’t be beat:

Portland Saturday Market: A lot more than tie-dye and patchouli can be found at this downtown market which has become the largest outdoor arts and crafts market in operation with well over 200 booths. The food stalls and live music alone make the Saturday Market worth the visit. (Open Saturday and Sunday through December 24)

Portland Farmers Market: With eight locations all over Portland there are more than enough opportunities to see what foods you might fall in love with this summer. The most popular location is on the PSU campus at SW Park Avenue and SW Montgomery Street. There any Saturday you can visit over 130 booths of deliciousness. (Saturdays through December 20)

Beaverton Farmers Market: Open since 1998, Beaverton Farmers Market has been around even longer than Portland’s Farmers Market and it has just as many booths! (8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., May to November)

3. TRANSIT TO TRAILS

Enjoy the mild temperatures and rainless days while you can!Transit to TrailsThe Portland metropolitan area has more than 10,000 acres of parks and natural areas. Here are some of our favorite trails from North Portland to Tualatin to Buxton and a lot of points in between that you can visit by taking TriMet.

Of course this is just a very short list of some of the top must-dos. Even though the Rose Festival is over there are more than enough events to keep you busy until September! So enjoy the summer and let TriMet help make your trips easier.

Your comprehensive list of summer events

 

We’re testing an all-electric bus

Electric Test Bus

Photo courtesy of John Vincent/Portland Tribune

If an especially quiet silver-and-black bus rolls up to your stop, rest assured… it’s a real TriMet bus! Well, at least for a while it is. Starting June 23, an all-electric test bus will join the fleet for about two weeks as we try out the latest in environmentally friendly bus technology.

BYD electric bus facts:

  • Battery lasts up to 24 hours
  • Charges in 2-4 hours
  • No transmission or internal-combustion engine
  • Battery is disposable and pollution-free
  • Zero emissions

The zero-emissions, American-made bus will run on various TriMet routes between June 23 and July 3, providing extra trips between scheduled service on weekdays. (It doesn’t have a fare box, so rides will be free!)

On loan from the manufacturer, BYD Motors, Inc., this bus can go 24 hours on a single charge, and the battery is disposable and pollution-free. Initial testing also suggests a big cost savings on fuel and maintenance compared to diesel, compressed natural gas and hybrid-electric buses—even other electric buses.

As the Portland area moves toward more renewable sources of energy, we’re exploring other fuel-efficient options for our bus fleet.

We’ve applied for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to purchase nine all-electric vehicles and charging stations. This test is an opportunity for us to “kick the tires.”BYD logo

Have you ridden the BYD electric bus? We’d love to hear your feedback! Email us at comments@trimet.org or call 503-238-RIDE (7433) option 5.

Here’s a great video from our friends over at portlandtransport.com:

9 new apps in the TriMet App Center

Transit apps on phonesHave you visited our App Center lately? We just added nine new apps for riders, all created by independent programmers using our open data. Thanks to these developers, TriMet riders have a variety of helpful trip tools available to help make their transit trips easier.

Check out the latest apps, all of which are free of charge:

  • Nimbler: Searches for nearest stops, provides arrival information, displays a map and vehicles on map. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • RideScout: Plans and compares transportation options. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
  • Acehopper: Provides schedules and real-time information. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
  • Walk Score: Provides transit scores and locates walkable apartments near public transit. For web browsers
  • TripGo: Plans transit trips. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, web browsers
  • PortlandBus: Searches for stops, provides arrival information, displays a map, plans transit trips, shows real-time traffic cameras. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
  • Search Playground: Open-search tool for quickly finding arrival times and route info and planning trips from the browser search tool. For web browsers
  • Smart Ride: Searches for nearest stops, provides arrival information, displays a map, plans transit trips. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • efoBus: Searches for stops, provides arrival information, displays a map, plans transit trips. For iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android

We invite you to take these new apps out for a spin. And be sure to let the developers know how they work for you. They’d really appreciate your feedback!

See the complete list of transit apps available in the TriMet App Center

Note: These aren’t “official” TriMet products, so we don’t endorse, warrant or support any of the applications listed here. We tested them initially to make sure they work, but they are provided as-is. 

3 essential tips for keeping your smartphone or tablet safe on transit

Rider with smartphone

Do you carry a smartphone or tablet? More than half of us do these days, and with the popularity of TransitTracker, rider apps and mobile ticketing, we’re using our devices on transit more than ever. Here are some tips that can help prevent you from becoming a target for would-be thieves, and help recover your device if it is ever stolen:

1. Set up GPS tracking

Find My iPhone

If your phone or tablet is ever lost or stolen, having GPS tracking enabled can help you (and the police) find it.

If your phone or tablet is lost or stolen, having GPS tracking enabled can help you (and the police) find it. This is a quick, simple and free process for iOS and Android devices that can help police track down the thief.

2. Ride smart

The safest place for your electronic device is out of sight. Here are some safety tips if you use a phone or tablet on board:

  • Always be aware of what is happening around you.
  • Hold your device with both hands to make it more difficult to snatch.
  • Don’t use your device near train doors. Many robberies take place as the doors are closing, allowing the thief to get away.
  • White or red headphone cords are often a telltale sign that you have an expensive device. Consider changing the cord to a less conspicuous color.

3. If your device is stolen…

  • Never resist or chase a thief. No gadget is worth getting hurt!
  • Write down the thief’s description, including any identifying characteristics and clothing.
  • Immediately report to the police by dialing 911 or notify the operator or a TriMet supervisor.
  • Contact your wireless carrier. They can lock or wipe your device remotely, which makes it worthless to the thief.

Tilikum Crossing may look done, but there’s much to do before the Orange Line opens

Crews inspect the deck of the Tilikum Crossing bridge.

Crews inspect the deck of the Tilikum Crossing bridge in late May. Construction work on the bridge will continue for several months.

The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project is progressing well. Like all of the region’s past light rail project’s, this one is on time and on budget.

You might even think we’re almost done if you travel down Lincoln Street in Downtown Portland, or over the Ross Island Bridge with a view of the new transit bridge, or past the project’s MAX station sites in Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and north Clackamas County.

But we still have much work ahead of us before the new Orange Line opens for service on September 12, 2015.

Although construction between Southwest 5th Avenue in Downtown Portland and the Tilikum Crossing in South Waterfront will be “substantially complete” in August (to use construction terminology), there is construction work remaining for the bridge and the five-mile-long portion of the project east of the Willamette River.

From a distance, Tilikum Crossing, the new transit bridge over the Willamette River, may look finished. But crews continue work installing rail, lighting, safety railings and the overhead catenary system that powers light rail trains and streetcars.

The eight new MAX stations along the segment of the project east of the river have more construction scheduled, as do the Park & Ride facilities at the SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek and SE Park Ave MAX stations. And all along this segment, crews continue to install trackway and electrical systems, which include signals and overhead power.

The project is also making more than $68 million in improvements that will make it easier and safer to access MAX stations and to bike and walk nearby. For instance, crews have been constructing many bicycle and pedestrian improvements between Powell Boulevard and the Willamette River. They’ve also been busy with other infrastructure improvements in Southeast Portland—working on roadways and sidewalks along Southeast 17th Avenue, beginning work on the new Lafayette Street-Rhine Street pedestrian overcrossing, and continuing to install public art.

In Milwaukie and north Clackamas County, crews are working to complete the Kellogg Bridge over Kellogg Lake and Southeast McLoughlin Blvd/Hwy 99E while placing a new multi-use path under the bridge where it crosses the lake. Track construction also continues, as do improvements to on the Trolley Trail where that regional bicycle and pedestrian route is adjacent to the project alignment.

Crew members construct walls for the SE Park Ave Station Park & Ride, in northern Clackamas County.

Crew members construct walls for the SE Park Ave Station Park & Ride, in northern Clackamas County.

And there is more work to be done once the entire 7.3-mile light rail route is substantially complete. Every TriMet light rail and bus operator—more than 1,500 women and men—must be trained to operate on the route. Light rail operators, of course, will be trained over the entire route. Bus operators will be trained on the parts of the project where buses have access—the Harbor structure that keeps the vehicles separated from traffic between Southwest Moody Avenue in South Waterfront and Naito Parkway, and on Tilikum Crossing, if current bus service planning results in the routing of any existing bus lines over the bridge.

The project has connected Portland Streetcar tracks to both ends of the bridge, which completes the CL Line loop, so all streetcar operators will also be trained in operating on the bridge.

Finally, two weeks prior to opening, as TriMet has done each time when opening a new MAX line, simulated revenue service will start. During this time, trains will operate for 14 days on the new line as if in service, but without accepting passengers. This process tests all of the systems and signals along the route to ensure they are working on opening day and allows everyone to be well-rehearsed prior to opening the light rail line.

The SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek MAX Station and Park & Ride lies just south of where SE Tacoma Street in Portland crosses over McLoughlin Boulevard/Hwy 99E.

Construction continues at all of the eight new MAX stations east of the Willamette River. Above is the SE Tacoma St/Johnson Creek MAX Station and Park & Ride in SE Portland.

As construction and operator training continue over the next 15 months, you can follow the project’s progress with videos, photos and construction updates by “liking” the project page on Facebook. We’re also on TwitterFlickr, and YouTube.

We’re looking forward to seeing you on opening day—September 12, 2015!