JUTC on Google MapsTuesday, August 25, 2015
Public commuters are now able to access the Jamaica Urban Transit Company's (JUTC's) bus schedules and some of its routes on their computers, tablets and smartphones using GoogleTransit.
The data became available yesterday, thanks to information technology consultant and third-year computer science student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Oswald Smith.
"It allows any transit company that has a regular schedule to basically integrate their transit data into Google Maps, and that data comprises things like the schedule, the route, and bus stop location,' Smith said of Google Transit, a product of multinational tech company Google.
The student, 28, explained that he conceived the idea from his own experience of standing at the bus top without knowing when the next bus would arrive.
"I take the bus and I always had these questions: "Where do I find the information as to what bus goes where? Where do I get what bus? What route does the bus travel? What stop do I need to get off at?" he recalled.
He said when he visited the JUTC's website, he realised that there was information there, but it was not readily accessible to the average user. That led him to Google Transit.
He pitched his idea to the head of the Department of Computing at UWI, who was ecstatic about his proposal, Smith said. He then approached the JUTC, but not without some apprehension.
"We know the reputation that Government has, (so) when I was heading to the meeting with them I didn't have any good expectations. I thought they were going to give me whatever red tape and reasons why it couldn't be done. (But) they actually said this was something that they wanted to do, but they just didn't know how exactly it (could be made) possible," he told the Jamaica Observer.
Smith added that he was pleasantly surprised that the JUTC had all the data he needed, including geographical coordinates for the bus stops; a list of all its routes; geographical descriptions of the routes; and the bus schedules.
The information technology consultant rolled up his sleeves right away and spent an entire weekend writing the programme to transfer the JUTC data onto Google's platform. He then contacted the tech company and signed up as a transit partner, after which the multinational technology company conducted its quality checks.
"Once they were satisfied about the quality and accuracy of the feed, they published it on Google Maps, and here we are," he stated.
So far, 61 of 114 JUTC routes are available on Google. The premium and express routes are to come on stream next.
Users can access detailed route and scheduling information by going to maps.google.com/landing/transit/ from a laptop or desktop computer, or use the Google Transit app on smartphones or tablets.
"Type in your destination and you see an option (a bus icon) and it will show you all the routes going there at the particular point in the day you're searching. By default, when you're searching on any device, it will give you the option from where you are to the location you had searched for. But you can change it to put in any two arbitrary points for where you are, and where you want to go, and also what time of the day you want to travel. Some trips require you to transfer from one bus to another, and it will tell you that," Smith explained.
"What I like about this (is that) you can be standing at the bus stop and it can tell you this is the bus you need to be taking and what time it should be passing at that bus stop," he continued.
The IT consultant disclosed that he will be approaching other transit companies to create similar linkages for them.
"It's not just for the public transit company. Any company that runs a scheduled transportation service, we can put them on the map as well," he noted.
The Google Transit app should go a long way in fixing the route and scheduling kinks which the JUTC has tried to smooth out over the years.
Marketing and communications manager for the State-owned bus company Clinton Clarke said a public-education campaign will be rolled out to ensure that the public is aware and will make full use of the app.
"It brings some credibility in terms of reliability of the service. You can go on and know exactly when they are scheduled to have a bus passing their way, so that you don't have to come to the bus stop any longer to wait for an hour; you know when the buses will be coming out. It will encourage efficiency on our part, in terms of the bus route being scheduled and operating on time," he told the Observer.
-- Alphea Saunders
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