Category Archives: Trip Tools

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. 

TransitTracker now shows “canceled” buses

TransitTracker on m.trimet.org showing canceled bus.

   TransitTracker on m.trimet.org showing canceled bus.

It already does a decent job of telling you if your bus is running late. Now, when the bus is not coming at all for some reason, TransitTracker can let you know.

Starting Monday, May 19, you’ll notice TransitTracker reporting some arrivals as “canceled.” We’re testing a feature of our new bus dispatch system that should make TransitTracker a lot more reliable when it comes to reporting canceled buses.

It’s important to know if the bus isn’t coming so you can decide if you want to wait, catch another bus or make other plans. This was the number one request from riders in a recent survey about how they use TransitTracker. (Thanks again to everyone who weighed in!)

Why would a bus be canceled? Construction, mechanical problems, accidents, weather conditions and other issues can result in a bus trip—or part of a trip—being canceled. That means some or all of the stops on the route won’t be served.

Until now, when a bus was canceled, TransitTracker would typically show a scheduled time (“2:45 p.m.”) instead of a countdown (“4 min”). That’s what the system does when there’s not enough data to predict an arrival time. But this is misleading because it implies that the bus is going to arrive at that specific time.

In other cases, TransitTracker would show an arrival countdown even though the bus trip had been canceled. After Due had come and gone, you’d wonder, “Did the bus just disappear?”

This is the phenomenon many riders know as “ghost buses.” And it’s particularly frustrating when you’ve been waiting at the stop for a while, only to find out your bus has… well, vanished!

Thankfully, our new bus dispatch system can identify canceled trips and pass that information along to TransitTracker. Now that we can flag those no-shows as “canceled,” there should be far fewer instances of ghost buses, and more reliable arrival information overall. (Note: This won’t get rid of all ghost buses, or any ghost trains for that matter. We expect to address those in future upgrades.)

This is a small but important improvement that we hope will make your life a little easier. We’d like your feedback, too. If you notice any issues with the new canceled-bus notices, or if you have any other comments about TransitTracker, please let us know at transittracker@trimet.org.

WEIGH IN: Discuss this post on Facebook

New mobile ticketing app: 38,000 downloads and counting!

TriMet Tickets smartphone app

With our new mobile ticketing app, you can pay your fare with your smartphone.

If the numbers are any indication, TriMet riders are decidedly “on board” with the idea of paying their fare with their phones! As of today, our new TriMet Tickets app for Android and iPhone has been downloaded more than 38,000 times, and we’re seeing anywhere from 300 to 350 new downloads each day.

Why is mobile ticketing so appealing? For one, with no paper tickets to keep track of, boarding the bus or train is a breeze… Tickets can be stored for future use, and of course you can buy your fare whenever and wherever you want.

GET THE APP: Learn more and download the app to try mobile ticketing for yourself.

I’ve spoken with many riders about their experiences with the app, most of whom give it an enthusiastic “thumbs up.”

TriMet Tickets mobile ticketing app

The TriMet Tickets app lets you buy tickets and passes any time, anywhere (anywhere there’s an internet connection, that is). You can store tickets for future use, and even use multiple tickets for groups of riders.

However, since the TriMet Tickets app launched September 4th, we’ve also heard from a number of riders about issues ranging from occasional app freezes or slow response to crashes or even lost tickets.

Some of these problems are minor bugs that either have been fixed or will be fixed in the next version of the app. Others are larger issues that will take longer to resolve. We definitely want your mobile ticketing experience to be a good one, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any feedback as we work out the kinks with this new tech. (This is one of the first ticketing apps of its kind, after all!)

In the meantime, if you’re using the app, or considering downloading it, here are some tips and important reminders to get you started:

Pro tips

  • Activate your ticket before boarding. If you’re at a MAX station where fares are required, make sure you activate your ticket (by tapping the “Use” button) before entering the station area. Otherwise, activate your ticket when you see your bus or train approaching.
  • Watch your battery level… Just like with paper tickets, you’re responsible for making sure you have a valid fare at all times. It’s a good idea to carry a few paper tickets as a back-up just in case you find yourself with a dead battery.
  • A $5 minimum?! Yes, the payment processor’s cost structure is what’s driving the $5 minimum purchase, to avoid extra additional service charges. Sorry! But remember: You don’t have to use your tickets immediately. You can purchase two 2-Hour Tickets and use them any time you want. Regardless, we realize the $5 minimum doesn’t sit well with riders, so we’re looking at all our options as we continue to improve the app. 

Avoiding “lost” tickets

Some riders noticed that their tickets had disappeared after either reinstalling the app or upgrading their phone. Here’s how you can avoid losing your tickets:

  • Don’t uninstall the TriMet Tickets app or erase your phone without transferring your unused tickets first. Your tickets are stored on your phone (which makes it possible to use them without an internet connection), so uninstalling the app can permanently erase your tickets!
  • Create an account before purchasing tickets, as this is the only way you can transfer your unused tickets if you get a new phone later on. (Note: Only unused tickets can be transferred.)

More than half the population owns a smartphone these days, and mobile payments are gaining popularity in the U.S. We expect many more riders will be making the switch from paper tickets in the near future. With your help, we’ll continue to improve the app and make it as useful as possible. If we can make things easier for riders, and make our operations more efficient in the process, it really is a winning solution!

Looking ahead a few years, the TriMet Tickets app is the first step toward an electronic “contactless” fare system, where you’ll be able to pay instantly with your phone, contactless debit/credit card or fare card, by simply tapping on a sensor as you board. Watch for updates about electronic fares and how you can get involved. We expect to begin testing that system with riders in 2016.

For now, please continue to let us know how the TriMet Tickets app is working for you. Send us a note at mobileticketing@mt.trimet.org. Good or bad, we appreciate your feedback. You can also check our website for how-to videos and answers to common questions about the app.

GET THE APP: Learn more and download the app to try mobile ticketing for yourself.

Transit apps are plentiful in Portland, thanks to TriMet’s open data

John McBride's myTriMet.com was one of the first browser-based transit apps developed using TriMet's open data.

In 2008, John McBride developed myTriMet.com, one of the first browser-based transit apps to use TriMet’s open data.

We’re lucky to live in Portland.

Someone at TriMet had the foresight eight years ago to realize that most of us would become umbilically connected to our smartphones… And that there was a whole community of open source developers here in the Portland area willing and able to “show off their stuff” by developing useful applications using data supplied by TriMet… And that these developers would do the work for free! Amazing.

How could they have known?

I have no idea, but the results were astounding. Rather than paying in-house developers, or hiring expensive consultants to develop apps, TriMet simply made its schedule and arrival data available to anyone willing to sign up. The developers did the rest, pretty much on their own, with occasional support for the folks at TriMet.

I shudder to think how much it would have cost TriMet to develop nearly 60 unique transit applications. In fact, I don’t think TriMet could have purchased the kind of creativity exhibited in these apps at any price. There’s a difference between work done for money and work done for love. And trust me, these developers work because they love what they do.

When I developed myTriMet.com, my objective was to create something simple and reliable just for me. Lots of other folks use it, but it was created for my particular commuting situation.

Each new app builds on existing ideas. That’s the beauty of open source development: Developers share ideas. The focus is on the end product.

Fast-forward 5 years. I still use my app at least twice a day, both on my desktop and my iPhone. But in all candor, my app was quickly eclipsed by other developers going beyond simple arrival information. Each new app builds on existing ideas. That’s the beauty of open source development: Developers share ideas. The focus is on the end product.

I attended the INIT TriMet Open Data Series last Wednesday and learned about all kinds of cool things that might happen as a result of TriMet’s recent upgrade to INIT equipment (for tracking its fleet of buses). For example, we may soon see apps that:

  • tell riders how full the arriving bus is and perhaps advise them to wait for the next bus
  • tell riders a bus is going to skip a stop because it’s full
  • give riders historical arrival information for a given stop so they can choose which stops to use

I’m sure we’re going to see lots of new map functionality, too, including animated buses moving on a map. And of course, there will be lots of things I can’t even imagine right now.

During the meeting, a representative from INIT added that if a bus has a sensor, they can make the data available. That’s when the brainstorming started… A sensor for bike rack availability? A sensor that tells riders the temperature inside the bus? Crowdsourcing data? Imagine being able to tweet your fellow passengers! Oh boy. Let me have at it.

The sky’s the limit!

Like I said, we’re lucky to live in Portland.

About the author: John McBride is a Portland area resident and daily TriMet commuter who has been living here almost 18 years.  Being a New York City transplant, he knows a thing or two about mass transit.  John describes himself as a compulsive hacker whose daytime job is crunching numbers for the planning department of a local credit union. He’ll tell you he loves all things “tech”—especially things with bright colors and blinking lights. John developed myTriMet.com, one of the first browser-based transit apps in Portland and winner of the CivicApps for Greater Portland for “Most Useful App.” 

We’re adding arrival screens at more Blue and Red line MAX stations

Arrival screen at a MAX station in Downtown Portland

An arrival information screen at a MAX station in Downtown Portland

About the author: Drew Blevins is TriMet’s Director of Marketing and Customer Information.

More Blue and Red line MAX stations are getting arrival information screens this year, thanks in part to a $180,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The digital displays, which are already in place at Green Line stations and on the Downtown Portland Transit Mall, show TransitTracker arrival countdowns for buses and trains, as well as service alerts in the case of a major delay or disruption.

Later this summer, crews will begin placing the first of 58 new screens scheduled for installation over the next year. We’re starting with Blue and Red line stations mostly on the west side, including Tuality Hospital/SE 8th, Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport, Orenco/NW 231st, Quatama/NW 205th, Willow Creek/SW 185th TC, Elmonica/SW 170th (eastbound), Merlo/SW 158th, Beaverton Creek, Millikan Way (eastbound), Beaverton TC, Goose Hollow (eastbound and westbound), and Convention Center (eastbound and westbound).

Then, this fall, we’ll start adding screens to eastside stations from E 102nd Ave MAX Station to Gresham Central Transit Center.

Green, Yellow and some Red Line MAX stations already have some kind of arrival display (either flatscreen monitors or reader boards). Within about two years, all MAX stations will be outfitted with screens so you have access to service information at-a-glance.

Questions or comments about our arrival screens? Discuss this post on Facebook

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.

One step closer to mobile ticketing

intro-(1)Heads up: Starting today, you may see riders flashing their smartphones instead of tickets as they board the bus. It’s OK, they’re not freeloaders… They’re testing a new smartphone app that is about to make things easier and more convenient for tens of thousands of TriMet riders.

Today, we released a test version of our forthcoming mobile ticketing smartphone app to around 150 riders as part of a month-long beta test.

We recruited for beta testers back in March, and more than 1,500 people applied. (To keep the test manageable, we unfortunately had to narrow it down to 150, but we were thrilled with the response!)

We’re already seeing some great feedback from riders as they experience the process of buying and using TriMet fares instantly on their phone for the first time. These testers are vital to the success of the app, as they will help us work out the kinks and make it as easy-to-use as possible before we release it to all riders later this summer.

TriMet is the first U.S. transit agency to offer a mobile ticketing app for use systemwide on both buses and trains. iPhone and Android users can just download the free app, register a debit or credit card in the secure system, and purchase tickets and passes instantly–anywhere and at any time.

At least half of our riders have smartphones, so for many this will be a welcome alternative to ticket machines and waiting in lines!

We partnered with the local startup GlobeSherpa to develop the new app, which will be more cost-effective for us than traditional paper ticketing in the long run. 

Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of paper tickets any time soon. But mobile ticketing is an important first step toward an electronic fare collection system, which we expect to begin testing around 2015. Eventually, you will be able to choose among smartcards, debit/credit cards, smartphones with near-field communication, and mobile ticketing, to pay your fare. Stay tuned!

Learn more about the mobile ticketing app and sign up for email updates