Trillium Blog

News and commentary about transit and online information from Trillium

Community Transportation Podcast: Information makes public transportation more useful.

In May, I spoke with Scott Bogren of the Community Transportation of America on the CT Podcast.

We discuss how information helps to make public transportation easier-to-use in the 30 minute podcast episode — how open data enables new transportation in multi-modal networks, how it opens doors for transit innovation, and reduces cost.

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Car-free hiking: Taking the bus to the Columbia River Gorge

The WET Bus, short for West End Transit, is in it’s second year of providing weekend access to many of the Washington State-side outdoor activities in the Columbia Gorge. Trillium was recently asked to geocode the bus stops and create a GTFS data set for the service. I took a trip from Portland to the Gorge to Hike Dog Mountain on Saturday July 11.

I rode TriMet to a CTRAN bus (65), I was able to connect with the WET Bus. If you live in Portland, you won’t have to start your car!

At the top of this blog is a map that includes every bus stop served by the WET bus. Every stop except for Steigerwald Lake, Bridge of the Gods, Beacon Rock, and Skamania Lodge have easily identifiable bus stop signs (see below).

WET stop sign

On my trip, I met a hiker who also took the MAX, CTRAN, WET Bus to take a day hike up the Cape Horn Trail. Another couple came into Stevenson to do their shopping and were taking the bus back to their home in North Bonneville. And a family was taking the bus to enjoy the activities for Gorge Days.

For $4 (all day pass), anyone can ride WET  on the weekend. Here are some ideas that I would personally like to take advantage of with the WET Bus:

Growing up in the Gorge, I’ve witnessed the growing number of cars and visitors entering the area. Cars enable us to enjoy outdoor spaces, but traffic congestion then compromises those very places. Transit can provide an efficient solution. It is a pleasure to see a public transit agency working to minimize the carbon footprint by providing services for the locals and fulfilling the growing demands of the adjoining metropolitan area.

Having a GTFS dataset for the WET Bus will help others discover the service in trip planners and will be make it easier for everyone to understand how the different agencies connect to each other. So Oregonians and Washingtonians, go enjoy the Gorge on the WET Bus!

Weekend service
Weekday service

Depending on weekday or weekend schedules you may be greeted by either of the following buses:


See also: The WET bus was described by Portland’s Willamette Week: “The Boot Bus — Our picks for Portland-area hiking trails accessible by public transit”. (July 7, 2015)

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Making transit websites accessible to all — Trillium’s report for enabling screenreader access

People who are blind or low-vision use screenreader software that reads text from web-pages aloud. This technology potentially makes the world’s information more available, but only if web-pages have been correctly formed to allow screenreaders to access their contents.

Federal laws require for local government websites to be accessible to people with disabilities, and further requirements apply for entities that receive federal funding (Section 508).

Websites that are accessible to people who are sight-impaired serve all users better. As a rule, these websites are compliant with the HTML standard (the language of the web) and contain real data rather than image-only representations. What this means is that these websites show up more often in search engines. The websites also load faster and are more broadly compatible with older and newer versions of web-browsers. In short, they provide more robust usability for everyone.

Despite the requirements and advantages, this does not minimize the difficulty in making a transit website accessible — because accessibility features are in the code of a web-page — they are, so to speak, invisible to the naked eye. Trillium’s report “Transit Website Accessibility” presents a digest of best practices, incorporating findings from interviews with transit riders who are blind. Because timetables are particularly important, the report dedicates particular attention to how ensure they are accessible.

Read the full report here. Drop a line if you find this useful for have questions.

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GTFS isn’t just information—it’s marketing

Many public transit agencies use a Google trip planning widget on their website homepage to provide easy access to schedules without the need to wade through timetables. It’s clear in this way that GTFS data—the data that feeds not just Google’s trip planner, but basically every online trip planner—is great for customer information. It has gone from unknown to commonplace in less than 10 years.

However, GTFS isn’t just a convenient tool for your current riders—it also brings in new riders.

Trillium manages both GTFS and websites for public transit agencies, putting us in a convenient position to look at how users interact with agencies online. Recently, we’ve been investigating how web-traffic originating from the url fields within GTFS feeds performs on public transit websites.

The result: GTFS provides high quality sales leads for your agency.

In a survey over one month looking at over 130,000 total website hits on 12 public transit websites, we found that nearly 1% of total website traffic actually originated from GTFS files. That may not sound all that impressive, but that’s just the beginning. Of the website sessions that originated from GTFS links, users were 58% more likely to be new visitors, were 27% less likely to “bounce” off the website, visited 32% more pages, and spent 37% more time on the site.

For smaller agencies (those with fewer than 10,000 hits per month), GTFS provided even more traffic. 1.4% of total website traffic came from GTFS referrals. While smaller agencies were already much more likely to have new visitors, they still saw a 16% increase in the new visitor rate from GTFS. GTFS users were 34% less likely to bounce and visited 29% more pages.

In other words, GTFS doesn’t just bring users to your website, it brings new users who want to find out more about your service to your website.

GTFS puts tomorrow’s riders on your bus. Make sure they catch their ride.

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