Trillium’s role between Google and our transit agency clients

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the role Trillium plays with rural, small, and mid-sized transit agencies.

The Trillium services page shows that we help publish data in the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) to submit to Google for inclusion in the Google Maps/Transit.

But, when Trillium started marketing GTFS publishing services, I didn’t understand that we provide an additional and necessary service in our role as an advisor to our small agency client, and a liason between them and Google.  Now, I realize that this is a very important functions of this firm.

Here are examples of what I mean:

  • We’re usually on the front lines of answering questions like “Why is Google offering this free to transit agencies?,” “How long will it take to include our information in Google Maps?”, etc.
  • We explain the constraints of, and issues with, Google Maps/Transit to our clients, answering questions about maximum walking distances, and any issues that show up with non-transit information like street address and business locations, or road network inaccuracies.  A lot of transit agencies have questions and need clarification on how transit data works within Google Maps and what part of the data and user experience they can control.  In fact, we’re going to start work on some FAQ documents to answer common questions for our clients.
  • Many of the small and/or rural transit agencies that Trillium approaches and works for operate services that are a little different from typical urban fixed routes. Recognizing this need, I’ve gone back to the Google Transit Feed Spec changes group (an electronic forum of developers who publish and use GTFS information) to communicate the need to represent flexible and demand-responsive services in GTFS.
  • Small and rural agencies also tend to operate more loop routes, which are uncommon in metropolitan systems.  I brought up a few issues with the way loop routes are displayed in Google Transit.  I don’t know if it was related to this feedback, but not long after, Google Maps/Transit display of loop routes was improved.
  • There are many other service features and needs Trillium’s clients have.  Working for a variety of small, rural, and mid-sized transit agencies means that we notice the most common needs and re-tool our application and services to address them, or advocate on their behalf to Google for those needs to be addressed in the trip planner.  This is an essential component of the work we are doing for on the Northern California Internet Trip Planner Feasibility Study right now.

As you can see, we’ve sort of fallen into (and embraced) a niche occupying the gap between Google and small agencies.  We are continuing to explore how we can be most useful here.