From Paper Bus Schedules to Google Maps: The Story Behind Putting Middletown Connecticut on the Map.
On a somewhat chilly day this semester, which describes many days in Connecticut, I wondered how I was going to get to the new Starbucks in Middletown’s Price Chopper Plaza. I’m car-less as I have been for my whole college career, but I knew we had a bus system in town. I quickly opened Google maps to figure out how to get there. In less than a second the options loaded: 3 minute drive, 30 minutes walking, $8 ride-share, and a 13 minute bike ride. Noticeably absent were the directions for transit. Instead I was greeted with the suggestion to re-consider going by foot. Not in this weather my friend, but I appreciate the suggestion.
Public Transit is Important — Especially Making it a Known Option
Public transit provides an important service: getting people from point A to B. Whether it is to go hangout in the Starbucks for three hours after spending $1.75 on a small iced tea or for going on a grocery run, public transit provides an essential link for those without cars or an alternative option for those that do. Middletown has demographics that tend to be strong users of transit such as significant numbers of elderly residents that can’t drive, college students without licenses, and low-income residents without cars. The town’s sprawl also makes having an alternative to driving and walking extremely important.
Like the time consumer GPS devices made paper maps obsolete, transit data integration into online trip planners have also made paper and PDF bus schedules seem equally quaint. It is so easy now to just search a destination and get the directions to go there, but without the transit data, an important option is missing in every map service and trip planning app. For instance, it’s a shame that more people don’t know that they can get from Middletown to New Haven for about $3 total with one easy bus transfer in Meriden or $9.75 total with one train transfer in Meriden. For comparison, ride share costs about $40 and student given rides around $20. This knowledge gap exists because Middletown’s transit information is only available on paper schedules in the downtown transit office and on PDFs found on a fittingly retro website that reminds me of the iconic 90’s teal and purple “jazz” solo cup design. This approach no longer cuts it for a public transit service because information needs to be where the public is and that overwhelmingly is through trip planning apps such as Google Maps.
The first thing that came to mind when I realized this issue was to contact Middletown Area Transit and Mayor Dan Drew with the suggestion to add Middletown’s transit data online. However, after conversations with the transit agency and Mayor Drew it became clear that they didn’t have the resources to get it done anytime soon. It’s been two years since I first checked in with them to see how their efforts to put their data on Google Maps were going. I don’t believe this slowness is their fault, there are lots of other issues to handle when running a transit district. Plus learning GTFS, the code needed for putting schedules online, can be intimidating. So recently I decided to just do the coding for Middletown, and also create a guide for them on how to easily maintain and change it using nothing more than simple Excel skills. This approach should make it easier for MAT to get on board with putting their transit data online. Below are some examples of trips that’ll be easier to plan once the data I’ve coded, with the assistance of Philip Lau, is uploaded to Google Maps.
These are just two examples of many possible trips that will be easier to plan once the data is online. If anyone is interested in seeing the code and Excel sheets check here, otherwise feel free to reach out to Mayor Dan Drew and Middletown Area Transit to show your support for finally putting Middletown Area Transit on the map. The ball is in their court and I’m looking forward to working with them to get this done.