Public Transport Crowdsourcing
This page describes applications and uses of crowdsourcing for public transport. We’ve categorised these applications in groups based loosely on our four main types of crowdsourcing … we’ve highlighted providing real time status information and developing public transport maps because they are especially good ways to use crowdsourcing for public transport.
Examples: Crowdsourcing in Public Transport
Crowdsourced Public Transport Maps
In many cities informal public transport systems are operated by independent companies. Often there are no official maps for these systems and little information about them is available. In this case city residents can map the routes using smart phone applications.
- The World Bank has supported crowdsourced mapping as part of their transport work (more: World Bank Blog).
- The Digital Matatu project has developed applications to crowdsource and other public transport tools.
- WhereIsMyTransport provides information about 20 cities in 10 countries across Africa and the Middle East.
Crowdsourced Route Information
WikiRoutes is a crowdsourced database of public transport data including detailed information about lines, stops, fares, schedules, etc. Users send information to WikiRoutes where it’s checked by the community and made available for anyone to use. More information at WikiRoutes.
Wikiroutes also allows users to suggest improvements to routes.
Crowdsourced Real Time Public Transport Status
Most public transport agencies provide real time status information via applications and websites. This data is generally based on automatic vehicle location data. This information can be improved by crowdsourcing vehicle location data from passengers. However, apps that crowdsource passenger data are more complex than standard travel planning apps.
Therefore, many independent transport planning applications have been developed. These apps provide status information based on vehicle location data and crowdsourced passenger data. The apps also provide additional features such as problem reporting, multimodal connections, ticketing, local information, and more, all in one application. Many of these applications use data obtained via public agency API feeds using GTFS, the General Transit Feed Specification.
A growing number of cities and public transport agencies have stopped developing their own travel planning apps and are relying on these independent apps. Independent apps have several advantages including being more powerful and updated more frequently because they are used in many cities. They are also handy for users because they do not need to download a different app for every city they visit. And, of course, they cost the public transport agency much less money!
The Boston area’s MBTA held a competition in summer 2016 to select an “endorsed” app. They evaluated the Transit App, Moovit, Swiftly and Moovel, and selected the Transit App; read more MBTA Endorses Transit App. The Transit App continues to add new features such as crowdsourced real time data.
Tiramisu was originally developed in 2011 and is one of the first crowdsourced public transport applications. Tiramisu pioneered the idea of having users provide comfort information such as how full the bus is and whether there are any wheelchair spaces left. It also allows users to “share traces” of their public transport trips (i.e., travel data for their trip) to help improve travel planning. It was developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s RERC-APT.
Moovit is a public transport application being used by over 35 million people in 800 cities (December 2015). It has been referred to as the “Waze of public transport”. I think Moovit originally tracked users via their mobile phones (similar to “share traces” with Tiramisu) to help improve arrival time predictions, but it looks like this is no longer done. Read more: Moovit Crowdsources Public Transit Data, So You’ll Never Get Stuck Waiting For The Bus Again – by Ariel Schwartz in FastCo Exist (5 February 2015).
Swiftly – the Swiftly mobile app is associated with the company’s Transitime program. The Transitime program is designed to provide more accurate vehicle arrival data for public transport agencies. In a study of San Francisco, Transitime predictions were found to be significantly more accurate than the official arrival times (read more on the Swiftly blog).
These applications allow users to provide suggestions and report problems on public transport.
The GreenCityStreets Forum was designed to collect suggestions for improving local public transport systems as part of the BusMeister project. The idea was for people to add their ideas after they learned about public transport by playing BusMeister game and using the Improve Public Transport best practices database. The crowdsourcing platform was built using Facebook. Read more: BusMeister Project Results.
SF Muni: Rate-my-Ride
Rate My Ride will allow Muni riders to provide specific feedback about any Muni trip in seconds. With a simple click to the left or right, you can rate your trip time, vehicle conditions and even the etiquette of fellow riders.
Read more: San Francisco’s Public Transit App Will Let You Rate Your Commute; by John Metcalfe, in CityLab, June 1, 2016
Crowdsourced Public Transport Collaboration
Collaboration is used in planning processes where users need to work together to develop good solutions to complex problems (as opposed to simply reporting a problem – see above). There are three main types of collaboration application: engagement, education and process (see our pages on collaboration). Here are some examples of collaboration applications being used to support improved public transport.
The GreenCityStreets Forum allowed users to collaborate on developing solutions and report problems. Users could suggest ideas, like and comment on ideas from others (process), and use the project’s game (engagement) and wiki to learn more about public transport so they could develop better ideas (education). The platform was built on Facebook to increase participation potential. Read more: BusMeister Project Results.
ConnectSF is a long range transport planning process in San Francisco. As part of the project ConnectSF has asked people to suggest new subway lines by drawing them on a “subway vision” map. The project’s website gives information about transport and helps people get involved in the planning process. This is a good example of a collaborative application for education and engagement. More about the project from SF StreetsBlog.
CoAXs is a tool that lets people design and test alterations to transit networks. It uses data from urban transit systems. The tool was developed at MIT and has been tested in Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco and New Orleans (so far). More: Chris Zegras on designing your city’s transit system (MIT News, Dec 2017).
New York – Turnaround Project
The Transit Center’s Turnaround Project is an excellent example of using a variety of collaboration applications as part of a campaign to improve public transport. The apps include education and engagement. The educational section “Ride Along” is an extremely creative way of illustrating how to make bus riding better.
Denver – Build your own transit system
As part of developing a 20-year transport plan Denver Moves created the Build Your Own Transit System application where users were given $100 million to spend on public transport improvements. The application then gave feedback on the benefits and impacts of the improvements. Read more: Transit Center: Planning on a Budget (May 2017).
More Public Transport Collaboration Tools
Crowdsourced Public Transport: Act!
Example applications to encourage people to ACT on public transport.
Crowdfunding: Trick Out My Trip 2016
ioby (In Our Back Yard), a civic crowdfunding application, and Transit Center are collaborating on Trick Out My Trip to crowdfund small improvements to public transport stops. The projects are especially good because they really involve the community, which insures that they have a lasting impact.
One way of acting is to provide public transport service via peer-to-peer networks. An excellent source of information is the September 2016 report by the Transit Center Public Interest, Private Mobility outlining how cities and transit agencies can best work with new mobility services like peer-to-peer operators.
Public Transport Games
Games are a good way to teach people about complex subjects and to engage them in the planning process. For more see our Transport Games page. Examples of public transport games include:
Our BusMeister game was designed to teach people about public transport operations. The goal was to encourage them to support public transport priority projects. It was part of a larger project that included educational resources and a user forum. Read more: BusMeister Project Results.
Brand New Subway
Brand New Subway is a network building game for developing new subway lines in New York. “The game is built upon a real map of New York City. When players build each station, the game uses a variety of data sources (census data, jobs data, existing transportation demand data, etc.) to estimate the station’s ridership. Those numbers are used to calculate a system-wide daily ridership. The game also calculates an estimated single-ride MetroCard fare, based on the construction and maintenance costs of the stations and tracks.” (from the Brand New Subway game description).
Chromaroma is a game that uses Oyster Card data from London to make a game out of public transport commutes. Players register their Oyster Card and then the game tracks them as they use public transport. There are many ways public transport operators could use this sort of game to create more involved customers and encourage them to change their behaviour. It’s a fascinating idea to explore further.
Blog Posts: Crowdsourcing in Public Transport
Three interesting articles about Crowdsourcing that appeared in late 2019:2020 and beyond: 11 predictions at the intersection of technology and citizen engagement in the DemocracySpot blog by Tiago Peixoto and Tom Steinberg. Lots of food for thought.Why Crowdsourcing Often Leads to Bad Ideas by Oguz A. Acar in the Harvard Business Review, outlining some of […]
Alan Bell has used machine learning to develop a program that analyses data from traffic cameras to identify blocked bus and bike lanes. He analysed a section of St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan and found that the bike lane was blocked 55% of the time and the bus stop was blocked 57% of the time […]
The Transit Alliance Miami has created a simple graphic display illustrating the time between Miami Metrorail trains (frequency) at the Government Center station. They have taken Metrorail data and displayed it in an easy to understand format. It is an excellent example of how city residents can use open data to analyse and publicise the […]
Over the holidays I had a chance to update crowdsourced-transport.com with new information. Here are the highlights: Crowdsourced Public Transport page – added: WikiRoutes – site where users can add information about public transport routes and suggest improvements (PT Mapping). Digital Matatus – an application for using smartphones to map public transport routes (PT Mapping). […]