Transit Hackers Take Philly for a Ride

Tim Lytle, November 17th, 2011

SEPTA On a cool morning a group of hackers slowly filter into a downtown Philadelphia storefront. The whiteboard wall quickly fills up, as a few work on finding an accurate way to track the progress of a single chosen bus line. With phone in hand, others build systems providing schedules and stops via SMS and voice. A few keystrokes and another starts tracking the positions of trains, while across the the room, transportation information flickers across a screen, controlled simply by a pair of hands moving through the air.

No, it’s not a scene from a movie, it’s the Apps for SEPTA hackathon. SEPTA – the South-Eastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority – is part of a growing trend to make public data accessible.

It’s important to note that the SEPTA API is currently being developed – at the hackathon, SEPTA developers actively made improvements based on feedback – so things will likely change in the future.

The API includes the static information you would expect from a transit system. Schedule and route information is available as JSON and KLM. The data can be accessed by route and stop, and the entire dataset is available in GTFS format. While not currently part of the SEPTA API, it is possible to query the data geographically through the PHL API, a related public data API to access Philadelphia geodata.

However, I found the real-time information to be the most interesting. SEPTA provides access to the real-time locations of the trains, as well as close to real-time bus locations. As I understand it, the limitation for bus data is not with the API, as much as it is a limitation of the technology tracking the bus and relaying that data back to the monitoring stations.

For an example of the real-time data (and the route KLM information), the site provides a google map showing the train routes and the current location of each train.

What ever came of that group of hackers? The next day they demoed nine different applications. Some provided a variety of ways to access transit data, from phone calls and SMS, to mobile sites and native mobile applications – even a Kinect powered display. Other applications focused on providing users information about their frequently traveled routes. You can find a full list on the AppsForSEPTA site.

I didn’t get a chance to demo my contribution. With the goal ‘least practical use of an API’, it does one simple – and pointless – thing. It checks trains into stations on foursquare as they arrive. But you have to admit, that’s pretty cool – right?

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Transit Hackers Take Philly for a Ride”

November 17th, 2011
at 12:15 pm
Comment by: James Moore

If the bus technology is like what we’ve got in Seattle, it’s not GPS. The buses only report distance travelled. Works well most of the time (see One Bus Away, http://www.onebusaway.org/), but doesn’t work when snow happens or buses have to divert from their normal route for other reasons. GPS is in the works.

November 17th, 2011
at 12:19 pm
Comment by: Tim Lytle

From my conversations with the SEPTA developers, I believe it’s GPS and relayed over a radio connection. It’s not real-time because they’ll loose the signal around tall buildings, and the same radio connection is used to send other status information.

Of course, that’s only my recollection.

November 20th, 2011
at 8:01 am
Comment by: 68 New APIs: AMEX OPEN Forum, OpenMenu and Phone Call Demographics

[...] This week we had 68 new APIs added to our API directory including a microvolunteering platform, a mobile application positioning service, a phone call demographic data service, a service for accessing small business content, a restaurant menu sharing service and a calling, VoIP, and messaging service. In addition we covered a recent transit hackathon in Philadelphia. [...]

November 20th, 2011
at 4:30 pm
Comment by: 68 New APIs: AMEX OPEN Forum, OpenMenu and Phone Call Demographics | website translation news

[...] This week we had 68 new APIs added to our API directory including a microvolunteering platform, a mobile application positioning service, a phone call demographic data service, a service for accessing small business content, a restaurant menu sharing service and a calling, VoIP, and messaging service. In addition we covered a recent transit hackathon in Philadelphia. [...]

January 4th, 2012
at 11:03 pm
Comment by: minecraft skins jocksteve

Wonderful goods from you, man. Transit Hackers Take Philly for a Ride I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it wise. I can’t wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful Transit Hackers Take Philly for a Ride informations.

March 22nd, 2012
at 2:39 pm
Comment by: Ten Protips on Avoiding Hackathon Fail

[...] via Philly Transit Hack Tags: Contests, Events Subscribe:RSSTwitterFacebook « Previous postHipstamatic Now API [...]

Follow the PW team on Twitter

ProgrammableWeb
APIs, mashups and code. Because the world's your programmable oyster.

John Musser
Founder, ProgrammableWeb

Adam DuVander
Executive Editor, ProgrammableWeb. Author, Map Scripting 101. Lover, APIs.