Historically, B.C. Transit busses have behaved like bad sexual partners, either coming too early or not com- ing at all. But in 2017, Victoria’s much beleaguered bus riders are in for a New Year’s upgrade.
On Dec. 20 of last month, the Transit app released a new crowdsourcing feature that will allow riders to track the city’s busses in real time.
The live tracking works through the app’s “GO” feature, which is turned on and off within the app. Previously, it acted simply as a personal transit assistant, prodding users to leave locations and “hurry up” when needed. Now however, GO will broadcast location data to the app’s servers, which will in turn create bus icons on the app’s map, moving along digital routes in time with real-world busses.
It only takes a single GO user on each bus for real-time tracking to work, but as soon as that user exits the bus, the tracking stops. So the more riders who use GO, the longer the app can track buses throughout Victoria.
The app will promote the use of GO with in-app icons detailing the number of fellow travellers who help with each use. Transit calls this “incentiviz[ing] altruism,” and describes its new feature as a big improvement over agency- provided bus timetables (which we all know can be practically useless).
But the new tracking is also a boon for the app itself. Crowdsourcing works better with each additional person involved, so there’s incentive for users to convince others to download the app and thus increase its already formidable presence on citizens’ smartphones.
If the mass collection of personal location data seems a little unnerving, Transit co-founder and CEO Sam Vermette assured the Martlet via email that data transmitted is “anonymous (i.e. we can not trace it back to your personal identity) and uses industry- standard security safeguards (storage on secure servers, encryption of communication channels, limited access to the data, etc.) to make the transmission as secure as possible.”
Vermette added that the data is only stored for three minutes. “This is actually something you can observe in action inside the app,” he said. “If someone using GO gets off his/her bus, you’ll see a grayed out bus icon on the map. If you tap on it, it will say ‘x minutes ago with GO.’ After three minutes, the vehicle location goes away from both the app and our server.”`
Transit is North America’s most used transit app, but currently this new feature is exclusive to Montreal and Victoria.
“In some cities [such as Victoria and Montreal] there’s simply no real-time transit information. The only departure times that transit apps can show you are based on official transit agency timetables,” Transit said in a blog post.
The Victoria Regional Transit Commission recently approved a memorandum of understanding to integrate real-time technology into the current bus system, but riders will have to wait at least 18 months for B.C. Transit’s homegrown, built-in tracking to become publicly available.
In the meantime, riders can rely on the high density of Transit app users in Victoria—currently around 6 per bus—to make GO a reliable route- planning option. For a city of bus riders constantly cursing the unpredictability of busses and lamenting the shortfalls of B.C. Transit, this new app feature could put our worries to bed.
Transit is available for free download on iOS and Android devices at the App Store and Google Play store, respectively.