Thoughts on CAT & Google Transit

I became a resident of the city in November 2010 (yes, I just celebrated my 28th birthday and 2nd Burgday, I suppose). In my short time here, I’ve learned that, despite the city’s very well-documented troubles, there is quite a bit around to be thankful for. This includes the city’s wide-reaching transit system, CAT.

I’ve used CAT a number of times — when my car was being fixed, or when heading downtown, for example — and, aside from late buses, my experiences have been good. That said, “good” doesn’t become “great” by resting on its laurels. There are ways the system could be improved to entice new riders and make life easier for those who already use it. In the case of this one, there isn’t really a purchase necessary, other than the price of someone’s time to make it happen.

Google Transit

I’ve harped on this quite a bit. CAT needs to get its routes into Google Transit. Through the miracle that is Gmail search, I was able to track down an email I sent to CAT back in February 2011 in which I suggested the agency look into Google’s free┬átransit mapping solution. The response I received back then from a Mr. Tom Collins was, “Currently, there are no plans to add our routes to Google Transit…..” Just for kicks, I tried to get transit directions between two locations in the city last night, to no avail. Almost two years later, it looks like nothing has changed in terms of CAT’s plans.

To be fair, putting together the data feed necessary for CAT’s routes to show up in Google Transit would likely require a significant time investment. This is because CAT currently operates its routes on “timepoints”; major stops are the only ones that have an arrival/departure time listed, though there are many stops in between these timepoints. To put together a Google Transit feed that provided real value to CAT riders, CAT would have to enter every single bus stop in the city — not just timepoints — as well as which buses went by those stops, and at what times.

If done correctly, a rider could enter two city addresses into Google Transit — let’s say, my old apartment to the Colonial Park Mall — and be told that a bus arrives at the stop at 3rd & Graham at 1:08 PM, and stops near 3rd & Forster around 1:18 PM. You can then hop off of that bus and (if you’re lucky), catch the bus coming north on 3rd on its way to Colonial Park. Pulling off such a trip now requires that you know where the non-timepoint bus stops are, as well as which buses travel on the routes you need, and when they arrive at the stops. For most people, this means experimentation (hope you have lots of quarters) and a willingness to stare long and hard at PDF documents.

By the way: if you would prefer to just go to the Transfer Center and wait for the Colonial Park bus, your arrival time for the mall jumps from 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM. Get ready to play lots of Angry Birds while you wait.

I happen to think that CAT would be a more viable option for many if they had all of this information in front of them and easy accessible. For those simply looking at CAT’s overly simplified timepoint schedules, a trip like the one above might look like a multi-hour ordeal when it really doesn’t have to be.

Anyway, just thoughts.

(and wow, I posted something.)