Free TTC Mobile iPhone app @ bit.ly/ttcmobile (Support)

Started modelling GTFS (YRT) data storage

January 17th, 2010

Wow, the General Transit Feed Specification by Google is incredibly complete, with all kinds of options and edge cases that make both storing and using it fairly challenging. The two things left out in the diagram on the right are the relationships between Stops and FareRules (a stop has a zone_id assigned to it that maps to a fare’s destination_id, origin_id or contains_id) and those between Trip and Calendar or Calendar Dates (where the crucial link is service_id, but where CalendarDate can override Calendar linkings, if defined.)

Of course, I’ll evolve the structure as I go along. It’s obviously designed primarily for routing applications like Google Maps, with such fields as color or text_color. So I’ll have to add my own fields too. You can see, for instance, the count and accessible fields in Route from the existing TTC Mobile app. (I’m surprised that there’s no machine-readable way to add such feature codes to GTFS, actually, e.g. Washrooms. You could put a human-readable version in Route’s desc or Stop’s desc, however.)

Also, right now there’s duplication in the dataset such that there’s both a trip_id and a trip relationship — this is primarily for debugging purposes and will eventually be eliminated.

So I still have a bit more modelling to go, and then I have to write some loading code, but within the next month, lets say, I might have a working version of TTC Mobile with GTFS data from YRT. For TTC data, I’ll additionally need to scrape together my own GTFS file, or use myttc.ca’s (clearly marked as such and/or unofficial).

Edit: Still working on this, just noticed a bug in the image I posted, Trip should have many Frequiences, and not the other way around. (The arrows are incorrect)


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If the TTC doesn’t reply in 7 days, email followup

January 13th, 2010

I do think I’ve sent an email to the TTC before about this — I know I’ve twittered the bigwigs — but just in case, I’m writing this post as a note to myself that if like the last time I sent a note, the TTC doesn’t reply in 7 days, I should email followup at ttc dot ca. (A part of me wonders if that’s what people do anyway.)

Why the TTC doesn’t just email me a confirmation number and get back to me in two weeks without a further followup email, I’ve no idea. Their phone line, 416-393-3030 just disconnects when I try to call it, it’s so busy.

Anyway, here’s what I sent:

The TTC has outdated info published at http://toronto.ca/open as explained at my blog: http://blog.lsta.me/?p=68

And rather than come up with your own format, why not adopt the General Transit Feed Specification standard at http://code.google.com/transit/spec/transit_feed_specification.html that YRT, Hamilton, and many, many other transit systems use? It’s 100% Google Maps compatible, and even NextBus uses it (in a non-standard way) to publish GPS information.

PLEASE contact me, I’ve written the free TTC Mobile iPhone app launched last Dec and was at the Open Data Lab where TTC employees shared the data, and I’ve been upset that no one has since listened to developers. My app is the only one on the app store with up-to-date info because it doesn’t TRY to get the right data, it just reformats the ttc.ca website — which has an incredible database behind the scenes. I’d be happy with a database dump of THAT if it were possible.

Thanks,

Louis St-Amour

Here’s hoping I get a reply, like the (so far fantastic) YRT has. And why isn’t Metrolinx returning my emails, I wonder? Maybe I’ve been trying to contact the wrong people. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know! Good transit data nirvana is near, folks — lets stay positive!


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TTC Mobile now downloaded 4500+ times :-)

January 13th, 2010

I’m very happy to say that TTC Mobile has so far been downloaded at least 100-150 times each day by Canadians (and many others). I’ve received 140 or so feedback emails, of which 40 actually said something more than “Sent from my iPhone” (oh well!).

I’ve met quite a few new people on Twitter, talked via email to transit geeks and transit employees, and compulsively looked for reviews and feedback on the iTunes Store listing. I’m disappointed at all the 1-star ratings, but I figure that happens to any free app — and the 9 largely positive App Store reviews outweigh the negative.

Here’s a breakdown of the download stats:

graph of TTC Mobile iphone app downloads per day per country

I do intend to make an offline version — I want it now myself, because I’ve grown impatient with that silly loading screen, “faster” though it may be. I’ve decided to allow for imperfect data, and I’ll be sure to say that — e.g. “* this data is cached from yesterday”.

I’m talking now with YRT, and I’d love to get GO/Metrolynx on board with any kind of data sharing. I’ve kind of given up on the TTC, but maybe if I contact Customer Service, I’ll get passed along to someone who can help me get the correct data. At this point I suspect a web browser is the only way to get decent data out of any transit service, and I’ve felt quite frustrated these past few weeks.

Still, the positive feedback helps keep my spirits up. Keep it coming, and suggestions for improvements. If anyone has a new app icon or loading screen to offer, feel free! Any ideas on how I can add social features? Dream big ;-)


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Information Visualization and Art

January 12th, 2010

For those who love Hans Rosling’s TED videos, here’s a new PDF called “Information Visualization and Art” by Stephen Few, who’s written a few good books on visualization.

Now, the obvious objection to this piece is art for its own sake, and that’s a valid point. But if the goal is to both look pretty AND communicate something new, more care should be taken.

The PDF looks at Ben Fry’s fun “visualization” of US health care costs (mentioned on page 2). If you get bored, scroll to pages 8-10 to see Few’s ultimate result after such experimentation in Tableau (great, but pricey, software, even for students–and Windows only). Note that Mr. Few isn’t a designer, so the Tableau output reminds me of what Google might make rather than Apple, say.

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(Review) Route 411: A new app for Vancity/Edmonton/TO

January 11th, 2010

I just made a quick review on iTunes of Route 411 (@route411 on Twitter), a new iPhone app that supports and uses the open data of Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems our Toronto data does — it’s outdated. Sadly, the only app on the app store that’s got correct Toronto data is my free TTC Mobile app, which loads the data directly from ttc.ca but has few other features since that’s all ttc.ca can do right now.

Anyway, I bought Route 411 since I already had Red Rocket and thought (what’s one more?), so here’s my review of it on iTunes:

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Vancouver transit (or would you like a list of transit apps?)

January 4th, 2010

I just received an interesting email from someone asking, “How do I get Vancouver”, with a 604 (Vancouver) area code in the signature. While writing a reply (as I often can’t help myself from replying if I have the time), it reminded me that I had a plan, over the holidays, to make a guide to transit services’ mobile offerings, particularly of what’s in the iPhone app store. I even thought about including the developers’ Twitter handles and making a Twitter list of them. Would anyone find this useful, or an interesting read? I thought perhaps about including screenshots, or turning it into an app directory; I bought apps.to thinking I could say provide a search like phrases in Apple ads:

There are http://apps.to/catch-a-bus and http://apps.to/catch-a-movie

Alternatively, apps.to could refer to just Toronto apps ;-)

Anyway, here’s what I replied, about transit in Vancouver:

(Edit: There’s also the new Route 411)

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An open letter to Toronto transit/tech thinkers

January 2nd, 2010

The following is an email I sent out to a bunch of transit/local people, because I’m looking for feedback and suggestions on what I should do next. I want to help you, my fellow TTC riders, have the best experience possible, but it’s not something I can, or should, do on my own. That’s probably what trapped iTTC and Red Rocket, or even myttc.ca, from having a greater impact on people’s daily lives, year after year.

Please leave comments below, or email me directly — I’m sure people have been thinking about this longer than I have … or may have other perspectives to offer. Together we can build a better app ;-)

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TTC Mobile v1.1 Now in App Store!

December 29th, 2009

So I’m happy to say that after the holiday break, Apple quickly approved the v1.1 update that had been submitted mid-December. (Download here in iTunes) You might not notice anything different, though the loading times should be at least twice as fast as before. With iTunes Connect (Apple’s backend) back online after holiday maintenance, I was able to get stats of the past two weeks’ downloads. So I figured now’s as good a time as any to look back on the app’s successes and failures, while talking about future plans.

Chart of 36 ratings on the app store

Of 36 ratings on the app store, 12 are “great,” 3 are “good,” 7 are “ok,” 4 are “don’t like it,” and 10 are “hate it,” – I really wish those who “hated it” would say why, as the feedback I’ve gotten so far is largely positive:

  • “Awesome! This app is more reliable than the TTC!” – smushins (4 stars, v1.1)
  • “Finally :) Viva/YRT PLEASE!!” – far_gone (5 stars, v1.0)
  • Anonymous email: The scrolling picture that happens when it’s loading only serves to make me feel dizzy looking at it. : (
  • striatic in Flickr, on using his photo: “great idea to use it as a loading screen – i wish it was higher quality. … hey it looks cool in the app! though you don’t need to make my attribution nearly that prominent. i’d just remove it”
  • “I just downloaded your TTC iPhone app and it’s fantastic! I love how it saves my favourite bus routes and the audio file of the latest 680 News traffic report is genius! Great job!” – Suzie
  • “I love it so much even though I live in markham and rarely use ttc. But if you could incorporate viva and yrt UD MAKE MY LIFE SO MUCH EASIER lol — Please change the icon too!” – Farhan
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TTC dataset incorrect– scraping required for offline apps … this won’t be fun.

December 23rd, 2009

Can I get contact info for whoever’s making the TTC data available? I’ve a few requests/ideas/fixes to suggest … sigh. If anyone wants to phone me, my number’s (647) 801-LSTA (5782), or just email me directly.

Based on Kieran’s comment on my blog, at http://blog.lsta.me/?p=27#comment-25938534, I decided to compare the given TTC data with that of ttc.ca. (Kieran’s one of the guys behind myttc.ca)

Since the TTC dataset page says “Board periods change around every six weeks.” but the data last changed October 27, it should’ve been updated around December 8th. But it wasn’t, not that I’ve any proof routes have changed since Oct 27. The data might have been just as bad at launch– but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, it took me a bit longer than I thought to get this started, and I’ve only compared the ttc_routedetails txt file with the website, and already I’ve discovered two MAJOR problems with the ttc dataset as given on toronto.ca/open … and I’m thinking of saying, “screw it,” and making my own “official” data set instead — I can see how the myttc.ca guys got the idea ;-)

The first? It’s not up-to-date:

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World domination by smartphone ;-)

December 22nd, 2009

So I’m trying to figure out what I should focus on as my next app development platform. The obvious choices are Blackberry, since they’re made around the corner in Waterloo; Android, since it’s up-and-coming (and cheap, $25!); then there’s Symbian/Nokia and Java ME-based phones, for which I really like the looks of Ovi (just not the price!). Oh, and of course there’s the Palm stuff, and Windows Mobile, neither of which I can sign up for yet: Palm, because it’s not open yet, Microsoft because they haven’t launched DreamSpark for mobile development — and because just like how Apple requires a Mac, Microsoft requires Windows.

Here’s a visual comparison (all prices USD except Ovi):

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