Validating Availtec’s Bus Arrival Estimates

In my last post, I created a dashboard that shows the estimated arrival time of buses at specific stops. After using it, I was curious to see how accurate those estimates are.

So I have created a new project:

availtec-estimate-validation

As always, everything is opensource and available on my github page.

This project consists of two parts:

  1. A capture script that queries Availtec’s API every 30 seconds for the estimated arrival time and stores them in a local database
  2. A graph script that generates pretty visualizations from the captured data.

Here is an example of the Route 44 Inbound at St. Vincents Hospital for Birmingham, AL’s transit system.

Route 44 Estimates

Each “block” is a bus trip throughout the day. The dark black line represents the actual time the bus arrived at this stop. The dark blue line shows when Availtec estimated the bus would arrive at that specific time.

Ideally, the dark blue line would be as close as possible to the dark black line.

From the image above, we can see that the 4th trip, from 10:44:17 to 10:46:17 had the best estimate. From 10:00am to 10:50am, Availtec estimated the bus would arrive ±30 seconds from when it actually did.

We can also see that the trip after it, had the worst estimate. From the time the trip started, just before 10:50, until around 11:20, Availtec was estimating the bus would arrive at 11:32, when it actually came at 11:38. It wasn’t until about 11:25, that the system suddenly corrected and started estimating a more realistic time.

This project works with any bus system that utilizes Availtec for real time tracking. You can leave the capturer program running in the background for days, then generate graphs based on that historical data. The graphing script allows you to specify which stops, routes, and days to plot.

Announcing Montclair for iOS and Android

I have taken my Montclair bus tracking web site and created an App for both Android and iOS that you can download for free in their app stores.

The app was not found in the store. 🙁

Montclair
Montclair
Developer: line72
Price: Free

This came about because I have been unhappy about how iOS handles progressive web apps. Every time the app is brought to the foreground, iOS does a full reload, which can be slow and annoying. The native app handles this much nicer, and doesn’t ever have to reload the state.

To build the native apps, I used this handy tool: Progress Web App Builder. It takes your website, wraps it using Cordova, and generates both an iOS and an Android project. With only a few tweaks, I was able to get them submitted to the app store.

Real time tracking of Birmingham’s Bus Systems

Birmingham, Alabama’s transit agency, the BJCTA (Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority) has a website for tracking the buses in real time. This website along with their mobile app are ok, but have some things that constantly annoy me. My biggest annoyance is that every time the App is brought to the foreground, it refreshes and resets you back to the main page, losing the bus you were trying to track. The other problem is that you can only view one route at a time (at least on the mobile app). I have 3 routes that I can choose between every day. When I open the app, I want those three routes selected by default so I can quickly see which route to pick.

With that, I present to you Montclair.

Montclair is a simple javascript application written in React. The version running at https://montclair.line72.net supports both the official Birmingham Transit System and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s transit system. However, the code is not tied to any specific transit system and will actually support any real time system powered by Availtec or TransLoc. As always, everything is open source:

API For Historical Bus Data

My previous blog post (Visualizing the On Time Performance of Birmingham’s Bus System) looked at creating visualizations based on the real time data provided for Birmingham, Alabama’s public transit system. I have now created a simple, public API that can be used to query the historical data captured from the real time system.

Using my dv8 scripts, I am capturing a snapshot of the real time data every 30 seconds. I am then storing this data in a sql database, so that we will have a historical database. This allows for generating reports and visualizations over time. As of writing this, I have about 2.5 months of data captured.

I am making all of this data public, along with a simple API for making queries. The API is located at:

https://api.dv8.line72.net/

 

However, if you visit that site, you will notice that you get a ‘Page Not Found’ error. That is because it is only a backend API, and you will need to construct URLS to make queries. Let’s look at a few sample queries (All data is returned in JSON format. I have found that making these queries in Firefox is preferred over Chrome, since Firefox will nicely format the results):

Query for all the routes:

https://api.dv8.line72.net/routes

This returned a list of all the known routes and their properties. Each route also has a set of “Trips”. A trip is a unique instance of a bus running along a route. For example, if everyday at 4.00pm a bus leaves Central Station along the route 44 and arrives at its final destination at 5.00pm, this would be a Trip. We can get a list of all the trips for a specific route.

Query for all the trips on the Route 44

Based on the previous query, I have found that the “44 Montclair” has an id of 21.

https://api.dv8.line72.net/route/21/trips

This returned all 61 trips associated with the route 44. Unfortunately, this doesn’t give us that much information about the individual trip. For instance, we have no idea based on the returned results what time of day a trip runs. For every trip, we can get a series of “Waypoints”. Waypoints are all the known information about a bus on a trip at a given time. They are essentially a snapshot, showing the location, passenger count, time deviation, and various other details. We can pick a specific trip and query it.

Query all Waypoints for a single trip on the Route 44

I am going to select a trip at random from the previous query. I will use 699, and will query its waypoints:

https://api.dv8.line72.net/route/21/trip/699/waypoints

This returned A LOT of data. This trip runs every weekday, and we have samples at every 30 seconds. The API returns a maximum of 1000 waypoints, so only the first part of the data was returned. Typically, we want to filter this data, and only get a specific range. For example, let’s only get the waypoints on a specific date. We can use the start_date and end_date parameters to put limits:

Filter the waypoints for a specific date:

https://api.dv8.line72.net/route/21/trip/699/waypoints?start_date=2017-09-05&end_date=2017-09-06

On this date, this trip was an Outbound (0) trip. It left Central Station at 11:45:00 AM and arrived at Eastwood Mall on time at 12:21:00 PM.

We have samples every 30 seconds of this trip. Using that, we could calculated the average on time performance or visualize the number of passengers on the bus. You can take this json data and convert it to CSV using a simple converter tool. You can then import your CSV into a spreadsheet program, like Excel or LibreOffice Calc and create visualizations.

For full documentation on the API including all the routes, parameters, and data types, a Swagger file is available. You can also view the documentation online.

Source Code

Th API was written in PHP using the SLIM framework. The source code is available on my dv8-api-server github project.

BJCTA Transit Maps

Code For Birmingham has been working towards making transit it Birmingham, AL more accessible. Part of this has been a push on how we can make transit easier for first time riders. A lot of our focus is centered around using technology, from real time tracking to buying bus passes directly on your phone. But we need to not forget the most basic thing every rider looks at: timetables and maps!

 

Several graphic designers along with GIS experts from Code For Birmingham, have been coming of with some mock-ups of both new maps and new timetable fliers.

This is the existing timetable for the #1 route to Bessemer. I have found this to be cluttered and difficult to read.

1-SO-Bessemer-1

Below is our version of the #1 timetable. The data is the same (this is a mock-up so times weren’t filled in), but we’ve tried to make it easier to read. The locations are clearer and show up directly on the map, as you’ll see below. Instead of using words like Inbound and Outgoing, we are more focused on the starting points and destinations.

route1-timetable

And this is the existing map for the #1 route to Bessemer. Even as someone who is very familiar with this area, I find this map very difficult to read. It is missing all points of reference, distances aren’t accurate, and it isn’t clear that North is not pointing up.

1-SO-Bessemer-2

This is our version of the map. We’ve overlayed the route directly on top of a street map, so areas of the city are much more clear. We also have insets to highlight the important detailed areas, like downtown Birmingham and downtown Bessemer. Location points are clearly labeled and correspond with the time points in the time table. We also have the large “subway style” stop map on the right, with times when the bus runs, frequency, and key stops, so that a user can quickly glance at it and have a basic understanding of the bus route.

route1-map

These time tables and maps above are meant to be fliers given out about the route. But Birmingham is finally in the process of removing a city ordinance that banned any information from being displayed at bus stops (I know crazy, right?). With this ordinance being removed, the BJCTA will finally be able to post route maps and information at stops and shelters. With this in mind, Code for Birmingham starting looking at what information would be useful.

 

While in Paris earlier this year, I noticed the maps they had at their bus stops. An example of the 69 line is shown below.

photo

I found these maps very useful. I tend to be someone who walks in random directions in a city, so I often find myself slightly lost. So when I came to a bus stop that had this map, I was immediately able to tell where I was in the city, what my orientation was, what was nearby, and most importantly, what transit options I had at this location. I was without data on my phone, so it was interesting to get around by bus without having a smart phone to immediately look routes up or get real time trip planning. If I didn’t plan out a route before I left, I would have been pretty lost. But I found I was able to look at any one of these maps and immediately understand the route and availability.

 

So based on this, I have recreated a short route in Birmingham, the #12. I am not a graphic designer, so I know this could use a lot of work, but I want to just focus on the concept for a minute.

Route12_StopsMap

I am hoping we will be able to create versions of this for every route, at every stop. Not only will this be useful for existing riders, but I think pedestrians will use them for wayfinding. It will help advertise and market the system, and hopefully, a potential bus rider will see how easy the system is, and use public transit.

BJCTA Trip Planner now in sync with official data

My trip planner for the BJCTA Max buses (http://www.bjctatripplanner.org) along with my android app, are now in sync with the official data from the BJCTA. I will continue to keep my site in sync with their data, which means up to date and accurate data!

The app was not found in the store. 🙁

Weld Article On The BJCTA Bus System

Weld recently did a two part series on the status of the BJCTA Bus System. My trip planner was featured in the second part. You can read it online from the links below:

Part 1
Part 1

Part 2
Part 2

Part 1 is a very interesting look at the decline of the bus system since the 1950s and the turmoil and political games around transit in Birmingham. Part 2 takes a look at what is being done now to improve the system along with stories from riders who rely on the system.

Updated Trip Planner with Route 41 – Fairfield

I have updated the trip planner for the BJCTA Max buses to include new routes. The 41 Fairfield has been completed. You can download the data off of the GTFS Data Exchange.

My Trip Planner already includes the latest data. Or you can download my Android App for free from below.

The app was not found in the store. 🙁

If you have an iPhone, you can download a 3rd party app called Hop Stop.

The app was not found in the store. 🙁