Transit adds crowdsourced real-time in 175 cities

Our next big step as we strive to deliver the best transit data available, anywhere, period.

Nineteen months ago, we started generating crowdsourced real-time transit data. (Wow, a mouthful.) That crowdsourced data is a byproduct of GO, Transit’s step-by-step navigator. While GO guides you throughout your journey, whispering instructions in your ear, it also broadcasts your vehicle’s location. After millions of GO trips, we’re finally letting that location data out of its cage.

Today, crowdsourced vehicle locations go live in all of Transit’s 175 cities.

Holy locations, batman! These are vehicle locations from GO users in nine cities, all at once. They put the “GO” in “GOTHAM” (and 174 other cities.) 🌃🔭🦇

Historically, transit apps (and riders) have been at the mercy of agency data.

With a good data feed, real-time locations take 10–30 seconds to update. With a bad data feed, it can take up to five minutes. It’s why sometimes your phone says a bus is one place, but your eyes say different. Which leaves you feeling frustrated.

After launching GO, we proved that we could do more than just relay agency data to riders. We could create it ourselves. Today, we’re launching it in all our 175 supported cities.

It means you can now see exactly where your bus (or train, or tram, or ferry) is in hyper-precise detail whenever a fellow rider is using GO.

In cities where real-time was once sketchy, crowdsourced GO data will make it more reliable. In cities where real-time was already decent? It just got even better. 😎

Agency data (left) vs. Transit crowdsourced data (right).

How GO works

Users tap GO to get real-time notifications for their ride. Our app tracks the real-time location of the vehicle. Then it tells the user when to leave for their stop, when to disembark, and sends adjusted ETAs if things go awry. Step-by-step directions, just like Waze.

Normally, the vehicle locations we show in Transit are pulled from an agency’s data feed. But once a rider is using GO on a bus or train, they start broadcasting their vehicle’s real-time location, second-by-second, to riders down the line. Our app replaces the vehicle location from the agency data with GO’s anonymous second-by-second data. It greatly improves the accuracy of our vehicle locations.

From zero to a hundred (to hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, each month.) 💯👌

How we learned to love the crowd

Crowdsourcing has been tried before, but until GO, it hasn’t worked. If you strap a crowdsourcing feature onto an app that has 10 users, well, yeah, you know what happens. And if you sneak “background crowdsourcing” into an app with millions of users — without asking permission! — say goodbye to those loyal users. You nasty battery thief!

But crowdsourcing works for Transit because we have the rider density (thousands upon thousands of people in each city) and because we rely on an opt-in feature (GO).

People use GO because it’s a powerful trip navigator. But we’ve incentivized usage even further, with gamification:

  1. We show GO users how many nearby riders they’re helping.
  2. We show GO users how many nearby riders they’ve helped, all month.
  3. We show GO users their “helpfulness” rank, compared to other GO users, on every transit line they ride. How delightfully competitive.

We’ve optimized GO for warm fuzzies — making it extremely useful, and extremely fun to use.

Now, as more and more riders crowdsource with GO, we can generate location data for more and more trips.

Next steps

Crowdsourced vehicle locations add more certainty when looking for your ride. But it’s just one of the data improvements our team works on.

Whether it’s deciphering the totally bonkers weekend service advisories in New York City. Adding wheelchair accessibility data. Or setting up a missile defence system for agencies’ real-time data. After all, Transit is only as good as the quality of the data you get from it. That’s why our team is so obsessed with data — making it more precise, bringing that precision to more cities, and adding different kinds of data to enhance Transit’s reliability.

It also explains the partnerships we’ve launched with agencies from Baltimore to Boston to Montreal. Having the best data means working directly with the source of that data: the agency itself. Today, transit agencies and Transit are working to remove each and every obstacle between you and the perfect trip.

The perfect trip is just around the corner. But until agency data is perfect (or until your bus is never late!) we’re here to bridge the gaps. Ride with confidence — and help others while you’re at it.

All it takes is one tap: GO. ⭐️👊⭐️


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