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Google Adds Real-Time Transit Data to Google Maps for Three Cities

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, March 28 2013

(Source: Google)

Google yesterday added live-departure information for seven New York City subway lines and Salt Lake City buses and trams, as well as live service alerts for Washington D.C.'s Metrorail, to Google Maps.

In New York City, the MTA released the real-time data for seven lines at the end of December. When the service was first launched, the MTA explained that it was designed to handle 5,000 incoming requests per second, and that it was one of the first MTA products to be hosted on an open cloud-based system.

"By storing data in the cloud, as managed by the company Acquia, the MTA can organically expand and contract its data needs to match changing demand as it fluctuates over the course of the day and the year," the MTA explained. "The cloud-based approach proved its worth during Superstorm Sandy, when demand for the mta.info website spiked to many times normal levels. Rather than strain its own computer servers, the MTA migrated the website to the Acquia cloud, where it remained available and reliable throughout the storm to provide immediate information to customers."

The service is made possible through the implementation of the Automatic Train Supervision system on those seven lines, which also powers the countdown clocks in subway stations. The MTA plans to add the L line over the next 12 months, and eventually the 7 line, to Subway Time, once it has completed implementing Communications Based Train Control, a signaling system even more advanced than ATS, by 2016. The MTA hopes to be able to upgrade the remaining lines in the future depending on the availability of capital programs funding. Until then, the MTA explained in its statement, it is exploring the possibility of offering more rudimentary countdown clocks at some stations on lettered lines, and using GPS on some elevated routes.

The Utah Transit Authority announced in January 2012 that it would be making real-time GPS based data available to developers. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Google chose to make the service available in Salt Lake City because it had the data available and Google is focusing on introducing the service in large metropolitan areas.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority first began making real-time data available to outside developers in August 2010, and began offering transit route information on Google in 2011.

Google first began providing real-time transit data in Boston, Portland, Ore., San Diego, San Francisco, Madrid and Turin in June 2011, and added real-time service alerts for the London Underground in April 2012.

But many cities are still working on making transit data available at all. In Vienna, Austria, two developers were able to gather 500 signatures in five days on an official city petition demanding that the transit authority Wiener Linien make its data available, forcing the issue to be addressed by the Viennese municipal council. According to Die Presse, the authority has expressed concerns about hacking and whether the authority would be legally responsible if applications did not function or update properly. The two developers point to several applications that could go live almost immediately if the data were available, and have meanwhile gathered over 800 signatures.

The City of Vienna already makes data publicly available through a portal at data.wien.gv.at/.