Trillium Blog

News and commentary about transit and online information from Trillium

Updates to the Google Maps interface bring rider info up front

Google has shown a lot of dedication over the years to keeping the presentation of transit options in Google Maps looking current, and providing quality information in an easy to use format. Trillium is happy to say we’ve made a few suggestions that have been incorporated.

The changes released today brought a lot more key information to the fore, and did so in a way that remains easily readable.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.19.55 PM
  • Fares are presented immediately
  • Total walking time is presented immediately
  • First stop name and time of departure is presented immediately
  • The “More options” button now reads “Schedule explorer”, reflecting the ability of the rider to dig in to the full menu of transit possibilities.
That departure time information is really useful when you have a bit of a walk to the bus stop. Up front frequency information let’s you know what the setback will be if you miss the scheduled ride.
 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.23.06 PM
Thanks, Google! These changes are a big win for key transit service information online.
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Rural and intercity transit—the wheels are turning

Aaron and I both attended the 21st National Rural & Intercity Bus Transportation Conference October 26 to 29 in Monterey, CA. For both Aaron, who’s been in this industry for now over 7 years, and for myself, being new to public transit last year, this conference was monumental. We were invigorated by the work being done across the country by agencies and departments large and small to bring greater mobility to the residents of the United States. We were also excited by centrality that technology, accessibility, and rider-centricity were given by all conference participants. These three themes were put front-and-center by a number of presenters, and the dialogue around them revealed just how hard rural transit operators are working to provide the best services they can with often limited resources.

Expanding service

Three state DOT leaders spoke at the Getting Here from There session to talk about the programs they’ve put forth in recent years to expand intercity networks on a state level. Dave Pelletier of Vermont demonstrated the need of thorough study and planning in order to highlight the missing links in current service and discover the opportunities that they offer, as well as the necessity of public commitment to supporting those services. Kyle Emge of Massachusetts showed how thinking beyond administrative borders to consider regional travel-sheds produces a more rider-centric transit experience. Shaun Morrell of Minnesota spoke to the directions that rural and intercity transit can move once a wide net has been set to provide transit to most residents. All three speakers at the session revealed the degree to which public-private partnerships can be used to leverage limited public resources to the greatest public benefit. Through creative—and competitive—financing, all three states have shown that there is a strong undercurrent of demand for intercity transit.

Transit for all

Rural and intercity transit often provides unique challenges for communities th– on public transit the most—disabled Americans. Bennett Powell and Jason Quan of KFH Group, Inc. gave an enlightening presentation detailing the struggles of examining bus stop accessibility. They highlighted in particular that a bus stop must not be an island, but rather a port. To have an accessible bus stop with no access to the residences or businesses it is meant to serve does little to provide mobility to disabled community members. Polly Chapman of Trinity Transit in California gave a related perspective in the same session, Through the Front Door. She reminded us that stop accessibility along some rural routes is not as easy as writing state administrative rules. Bus stop upgrades can be expensive and, unless done strategically, might not provide any substantial service improvement. There is a risk of building “bus stops to nowhere” which must be mitigated in order to maximize the return on funds.

Rider-centric technology

Riders are coming to expect transit agencies to be responsive not only to their needs, but responsive their their preferences. Riders want to be met on their own terms, and to be able to find transit information through the media on which they are most comfortable. As more rural residents and intercity travelers come online not only at home, but through mobile devices, rural and intercity carriers have learned quickly in the last few years that transit technology provides as many advantages for rural systems as it does for urban ones. Aaron moderated the session Changes in On-Board Communication Technology in which we learned of the impressive progress made by Richard Tree at Porterville Transit by adapting new technologies like the Google Transit trip planner and real-time vehicle location technologies. In all, four other sessions included the word technology in their title: the entire national rural and intercity transit network is awash in dialogue about how to use technology to provide better and more efficient services.

We’re excited to see where all those discussions lead—the possibilities are just beginning to be elaborated.

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Invest in transit, and riders will come

Attitudes toward public transit have been changing in the US for some time, but there’s been more evidence recently that the Millennials (previously known as “Gen Y”) continue to be a driving force of that change.

A new report from USPIRG compiles the research from a number of studies over the last decade, including one we highlighted on our blog a couple years ago. Younger Americans are driving less and using alternative transportation modes—like walking, biking, and public transportation—more than previous generations. Some reasons are temporary: the recession of 2008-2009 cause some people to resort to public transit due to cost, or not commuting at all because of unemployment. However, many of the reasons are due to cultural shifts that imply a change of values which might last longer: Millennials show an increased preference for urban living, they are more familiar with mobile devices which make transit more convenient to use, and are more likely to take actions to protect the environment, even though they’re less likely to label themselves “environmentalists”.

This has major implications, USPIRG argues, for the needs of transportation investment. The country must refocus its attention on providing quality public transit infrastructure, in order to capture the potential riders that are waiting for new capacity. This echoes an indication of the recent nationwide survey by TransitCenter, which found that topping the list of all requests by current and potential public transit riders was increased frequency and service hours. That survey also found a divergence between Millennials and other generations.

The takeaway here is that demographics are on the side of public transit. As younger Americans build long-term habits, and become a larger proportion of the American workforce, public transit ridership will increase. The question is will US governments—local, state, and federal—invest in order to service this increased demand, or will we continue to rely on the outdated metrics that have put American public transit in a state of disrepair?

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Trinity Transit’s mountain climbing ridership

Lake Josephine in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Lake Josephine in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Trinity Transit, a small but smart transit agency in the mountains of Northwest California, is a great example of what strategic marketing and providing quality resources to riders can do to help increase ridership and farebox return.

In 2009 Trinity participated in a Google Transit pilot for Northern California counties. The next year it expanded services to Willow Creek (at increased fares) and Redding. In late 2011, Trinity expanded these same intercity services again, while pursuing a revamping of its print and online marketing including a new website.

The riders heard about these new services, and have found schedule information easily with the new online resources. Trinity’s total ridership increased 92% between FY 09/10 and FY 13/14, up to nearly 15,000 a year. Riders per service mile driven rose 10%, farebox recovery increased from 9.4% to 15.6%, and total fares collected tripled.

Trinity Transit rider loads bike on to bus

A Trinity Transit rider loads her bike on to the front of a Trinity bus.

A lot went in to this growth, most of all the work and dedication of the staff of Trinity Transit, and the support of a community that pushed for increased services.

But GTFS data and Trinity’s new website surely contributed. Trillium is proud to have spearheaded both of these projects.

Riders appreciate the clarity and convenience that quality online information offers. Trinity’s riders sure appreciate it. A 2013 survey asked Trinity riders whether they were satisfied with the service. An amazing 99% responded that it was good (10%), very good (26%), or excellent (56%).

Do you operate a rural public transit agency and want to see these kind of numbers? Trillium can help you market your services online. Contact us today.

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