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 transit 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.)

If you can’t tip, don’t go out

The Central PA Twitterverse is abuzz about two Spice employees who were fired after being interviewed for a Patriot-News article.  Both employees (a male waiter and a female bartender) allowed their real names to be used for the article (written by Daniel Victor) and were far from customer-centric with their feelings as it relates to tipping.  Here are two gems from the article:

“If you can’t afford to come out, then don’t come out.” -Molly Turner

“You have to pretty much be the best server ever and make them feel like crap for leaving you anything less than you deserve.” -John Burkholder

Now, as poorly worded as these statements were, they still have what my English professor would call the R.O.T. – the ring of truth.  People are more squeezed financially than they used to be and are cutting costs wherever they can.  However, some of those same people don’t have their priorities in order.  This is my belief but I’m sure many agree:

If you have money to go out, you have money to tip.

If not, movie rentals are cheap and so is microwave popcorn.  Parks are free.  So are libraries.  There are plenty of activities that are cheap and tip-free.  If 15-20% of your bill is going to break the bank, you might want to consider other forms of entertainment.

Harrisburg blogging is taking off

A few days ago I wrote a post about why I’d rather be here than in Silicon Valley.  While people there are more apt to become early adopters, Central Pennsylvania’s rate of adoption for new technology is much slower.  This basically makes those of us blogging, tweeting and FriendFeeding here the Robert Scobles, Louis Grays blogHarrisburgand Darren Rowses of the area.

Pretty cool if you ask me.

Now we’ve taken another step forward.  blogHarrisburg has been online previously, but today received a sweet new redesign that takes it to a whole new level.  What is blogHarrisburg?  Basically, it’s a web site that aggregates all the posts made about the area by local bloggers and places them conveniently onto one site.  This will do worlds to promote blogging in the area and will put much deserved eyeballs on some of the great work that local bloggers are doing.

Speaking of local bloggers and Twitterers, you can meet some of them Thursday (5/22) at the blogHarrisburg/Twitter meetup!  It’ll be going down at Appalachian Brewing Company on Cameron Street in Harrisburg from 6-9 PM.  I usually play volleyball during that time, but I’m going to try to make it anyway.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at a promising Central PA web site that hopes to be your one stop for event information – Spotobe.