Category Archives: Stories from Riders

How I made one of the top iPhone transit apps in Portland

About the author: Andrew Wallace is a local software developer who created one of the most popular transit apps in Portland. Originally from Kent, England, he now lives in Southwest Portland.

To this day, I am still a bit surprised to learn PDX Bus gets downloaded some 40,000 times whenever there’s a new version. I created this app in 2008 simply to help my own commute home each night from Intel in Hillsboro.

PDX Bus Developer Andrew Wallace
PDX Bus Developer Andrew Wallace

At that time, I had a couple of options, and my connection to the Line 54-Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy at Beaverton Transit Center was always pretty tight. So every night I needed to answer a nagging question: Would I make my connection at BTC, or should I stay on the MAX and transfer downtown?

I created the initial version of my app in about two weeks. Five years later, I’ve just introduced a long-overdue 6.7 version, which includes updates to the new Eastside Streetcar service and other fixes. PDX Bus only went public the first time after I shared it with friends and colleagues, and since then, I’ve tapped this group to beta test the app whenever I make changes.

I am part of a large community of local developers who create apps for TriMet riders thanks to TriMet’s approach to open data.

TriMet makes its raw data available to developers for the singular purpose of getting better tools to its riders with no cost to TriMet. In fact, TriMet was the first transit agency in the country to take this step, and riders now have nearly 60 apps available to them.

TriMet makes its raw data available to developers for the singular purpose of getting better tools to its riders with no cost to TriMet. In fact, TriMet was the first transit agency in the country to take this step, and riders now have nearly 60 apps available to them.

Andrew Wallace's PDX Bus app
Andrew Wallace’s PDX Bus app

As you can imagine, software developers tend to be an independent bunch. We do, however, share information and questions as part of a local Google group. TriMet’s own developers chime in to answer our questions and keep us moving forward. When TriMet was preparing to launch its map interface for their trip planner several years ago, TriMet IT Manager Bibiana McHugh even called me personally to let me know they had a new API (application programming interface) available in case I wanted to use the data with my app.

Due to the success of my app in Portland, I receive requests from transit riders in other cities to create a similar app for them. Often I tell them there is nothing I can do—their transit agency doesn’t make the raw data available to developers. The reason developers are flourishing here is because it’s hassle free for us to do our work. We also don’t need to worry about legal issues. I’ve heard there was an organization on the West Coast suing developers for using their data. That approach discourages innovation, as many developers toil away for fun—not for profit.

To the riders who use PDX Bus, thanks for all your support of my app and your feedback. And cheers to TriMet for making innovation easy.