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Helping Rural Residents Use Google Transit

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[This is another in our series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts are doing in the field. This article is written by Sue Crowe, project lead for the Northern California Internet Transit Trip Planning Study, which utilizes Google Maps/Transit to provide transit trip planning features for rural and small-urban operators in a nine-county region.]

Federal law mandates coordination of human transportation services. From 2007 through 2009, regional agencies throughout the United States prepared locally developed coordinated, public transit-human services transportation plans.  Many of California’s plans identified the need for mobility management tools such as online trip planners. Caltrans Division of Mass Transportation (DMT) set statewide goals to improve information dissemination on transit trip planning and connectivity throughout California.

Google Maps/Transit is a global online trip planner that is used predominantly in large urban areas.  With the exception of Shasta County, California’s far northern and eastern counties are rural, with countywide populations of less than 50,000.  The DMT requested that the Shasta County Regional Transportation Planning Agency (SCRTPA) act as lead agency on a study to determine if Google’s trip planner could be successfully implemented in large rural areas.

Bus and Map

Northern California Google Transit Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan
The project study area included the counties of: Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity.  Eight public transit operators serve these counties, with four providing inter-county service.

In July 2008, project scoping meetings began that included staff from DMT, Caltrans District 2 and 9, regional planning agencies and transportation commissions, and transit operators from each county.  A request for proposals was issued. Trillium Solutions was awarded the contract.

Funding allowed for five transit operators to participate in the pilot study.  Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity counties were selected due to highway corridor connectivity. 

Each transit operator’s route information and transit stops were gathered using route maps, GPS units, and/or GIS map layers.  In some cases, transit agency staff collected GPS data.  Once gathered, data was thoroughly tested in Google’s test environment and validated using several methods.  Technical and display issues were resolved prior to launching for public view. 

Implementation of Google Transit in the project study area did not occur at once, nor did it function flawlessly.  Several issues remain that will need to be resolved.  The highest priority is the trip planner’s low maximum walking distance to transit stops, and a 48-hour window for available transit services.  The data publishing consultant and transit agencies will continue to work with Google to resolve these issues.
Google Transit was deemed a success for the four pilot counties.  Only Plumas County did not launch during the pilot study. 

Successful plans and programs need to respond to change.  Over the course of this project, several new features were added to Google Transit, and data publishing tools.  The ultimate goal is to enable the public to plan transit trips that involve multiple transit services.  Continued identification of needs and issues, collaboration, and sharing effective strategies can help to improve transit trip planning globally. 

This innovative technology project was a finalist in the Operational Efficiency category of the 2010 California Transportation Foundation “Tranny” Awards.

Success

Following the success of the pilot study, a second phase is underway to implement the three counties that were not implemented in the pilot study plus two additional counties. Shasta RTPA will resume project lead. Upon completion, 11 California rural counties will be launched on Google Maps/Transit.

Trinity County believes its integration with Google Maps/Transit has improved its transit service.

“Trinity County has many recreational destinations," a representative explained.  "Northern California visitors are now able to plan trips across this portion of California using multiple transit providers with ease.  This type of travel planning was once difficult, but is now simplified with Google Maps/Transit.”

Google Transit doesn’t just benefit the transit customer.  Social service agencies, caregivers, and those providing aid to someone can now Google transit information for their clients.  For the elderly who can no longer drive, Google transit information for bus stops and locations helps make it possible to  maintain a sense of independence.

 


Sue Crowe is an Accountant/Auditor III with the Plans and Programs Division of Shasta County Department of Public Works, and serves as staff to the Shasta County Regional Transportation Planning Agency and Metropolitan Planning Organization. In 2008, Sue was recognized as Shasta County’s July Employee of the Month. Among Sue’s responsibilities is the administration of federal and state transit programs and funding, conducting the annual Unmet Needs Process, and representing the RTPA on various committees as the agency’s transit liaison.  Sue also prepared Shasta County’s Coordinated Human Transportation Plan.