Transit 511 combines public transportation systems in the Bay Area

Transit 511
California Metropolitan Transportation Commission
  • MDV trip-planning software
  • Oracle database for schedules
  • ArcGIS from ESRI for other maps
  • JavaScript

(Disclaimer: Use of any products does not imply endorsement on the part of the agency.)

Challenge: How do you get from one location in the San Francisco area to another using only public transportation? Keep in mind that the Bay Area is home to more than 60 public transportation options, from the city's subway to county bus lines.

Lead story:

Great dot-gov Web sites

The California Metropolitan Transportation Commission's provides a one-stop shop that can help users plan a route from doorstep to doorstep. Although a number of cities offer Web-based trip planners, San Francisco's combines the schedules of dozens of subway, light-rail, trolley and bus systems, a heroic act of interagency coordination. A trip can involve transferring between two or three systems. It is to the designers' credit — and to the credit of supporting contractor Science Applications International Corp. — that the site offers users a uniform interface.

"We tried to consolidate the information together in one place as much as possible," said Tom Spiekerman,’s project manager. The in-house staff consisted of four people.

Users have praised the site. "It's awesome," one San Francisco resident told us. In fact, the site won a Best New Innovative Product award from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America in 2008.

A user gives the trip planner a starting address and an ending address, and the site produces a map of the journey and offers a variety of options. Users can zoom and pan across the map and print itineraries. The site offers the option of simply finding out what public transportation is available near a location and posts schedules for all the transit systems, a live guide to traffic congestion, some information on delays and ride-sharing opportunities. A “popular destinations” option offers a map of tourist attractions with information on nearby transit stops.

To bring all those transit schedules together on one site, the development team had to work with the formats the individual transit systems used to publish their schedules. "We did not dictate to them a particular format for the data,” Spiekerman said. “We figured a lot of them did not have the budget or the expertise, so we worked with whatever they had and created a centralized database."

The agency uses trip-planning software from European company MDV, which largely focuses on providing software for European cities.

The designers also incorporated the ability for other organizations to embed a trip planner into their sites. For example, the San Francisco Opera uses a copy of the trip planner to help opera-goers find their way to performances, and the Transit and Trails Web site offers users a guide to local hiking destinations.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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