Transit Apps, Visualizations, Data Plans Announced

Today I attended the MassDOT Developers Conference on transportation apps and data. The conference was organized by Chris Dempsey and Josh Robin, two Massachusetts state employees who have been spearheading work to publish transportation data and encourage third party developers to create apps in the state.

The big news at the conference was their announcement of a pilot project to provide real-time bus arrival data for several MBTA bus lines. They also announced the winners of competitions for apps and visualizations that used the published data. In addition to scheduling and spatial data, the data for the visualization competition included two datasets containing the time, method of payment, and location (bus route or subway station) for every rider payment for two days.

The winning applications were two iPhone apps containing schedule data. The winning visualization was this animation showing activity in the transit network. The runner-up, “A Day In the Life of the MBTA,” featured striking visualizations of the data showing activity patterns at different stations throughout the days. I also appreciated another entrant, “A Day of MBTA” who created a website with histograms for riders entering each T station.

During his talk, the NextBus’s Michael Smith observed RFID payment cards such as the CharlieCard can improve the bus riding experience by speeding passenger boarding. Riders of busy bus lines know how much one or two riders paying with cash can slow down the system. Although the visualization contest data included payment data, none of the entrants analyzed it. According to the key the state provided, the various payment types are:

  • MBTA Old Tickets – This refers to magnetic tickets that are pre-encoded by a third party vendor and then distributed to T sales offices for sale to the general public. They are also distributed to Cubic, which is the vendor in charge of completing on-line and Corporate Program orders.
  • Triplex Roll mag. Stripe (Large and Small) – This is the type of stock used to encode magnetic tickets that are issued from Fare Vending Machines and bus Fareboxes.
  • PreCut Triplex w. mag. Stripe – This is the type of stock used to encode magnetic tickets that are issued for bulk production of magnetic tickets and retail sales terminals at 7-Eleven, Stop and Shop, etc.
  • Smart Card Mifare 1k – This is the type of media on which Charlie Cards and IDs are issued.
  • Regular Charlie Cards are purchased pre-encoded from a third party vendor and then distributed to subway stations, select bus terminals, T sales offices and retail locations for further distribution to the general public. Student Charlie Cards and IDs are issued from back-office devices located at 10 Park Plaza.

Using the data key provided, I created summary statistics for payment methods by bus route:

Payment Type, MBTA Bus Routes, September 8, 2009

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The result seems to show relatively high usage rates on most bus lines. The busy 1 bus, running from Cambridge to Dudley Square, had 77% riders paying with CharlieCards on September 8. I don’t know enough about the routes to pull out any other findings — but there are some curious patterns. (Why does the 429 have 32% paying with “other,” presumably cash?)

CharlieCard use on the subway is also high, ranging from 58% on the Silver Line to 72% on the Red Line. At the station level, the stations with the highest CharlieCard use rates are Wollaston, Davis Square, and Bowdoin, all at over 80%.

Payment Type, MBTA Subway Lines, September 8, 2009

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Do any readers see interesting patterns in the CharlieCard data? Did anyone else attend?

Notes and other materials will be posted on the following websites next week:

> MassDOT Developers Page
> MassDOT Developers Conference Website

Author: Rob Goodspeed