So, today Google Transit (Maps) enabled public transport planning in Victoria, including right across Melbourne.
This has been a long time coming.
Google Transit and the GTFS file format originated about ten years ago, and quickly took hold in North American cities, as well as elsewhere around the world.
Around the same time, the then transport body Metlink was in the midst of gathering stop and schedule data from a myriad of operating companies, and combining it all into one database, allowing them to coordinate timetable printing, and also to launch their own Journey Planner, using proprietary software from MDV, the same company that had done it for Transport For London. Unfortunately this Journey Planner was beset with problems producing some really strange results, and the interface left a lot to be desired. Trying to see a map in particular often didn’t work.
As early as 2005, when Metlink’s Journey Planner was undergoing internal testing, I talked to Metlink about integrating into Google Transit and other services. In fact I found an email to them (December 2005) where I noted Google Transit’s release:
Google are working on providing public transport trip planning, and will be asking PT agencies to participate by providing data … While Metlink will obviously want to run their journey planner themselves, it would appear to make sense to (if possible) provide data to other organisations to make trip planning as widely available as possible.
.@ptv_official journey planner is infuriating. Says no stops in 10 mins walk, then shows them. Map doesn't work. JUST GIVE US GOOGLE TRANSIT
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) December 19, 2014
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) June 22, 2015
In December 2009 Metlink published the timetable data in their own format. It was used by the PTUA for a study to highlight how poor some train-bus connections were — this put some noses out of joint, but it helped to progress the debate from “There’s no problem with connections” to “Connections are difficult to coordinate”. The first stage of fixing a problem is recognising you have it, and subsequently PTV has put a lot of effort into fixing it, with some success.
In 2011 we got a whisper that the Department of Transport was talking to Google about Transit integration, but it seemed to stall for a while.
But under the Coalition government of the time there was a push to make a lot more government-owned data open and freely available — this has been continued by Labor. By 2014, PTV had taken over from Metlink. They published an API, but still in a proprietary format. Some app writers have made use of this to do some clever things, particularly with realtime information. By this point, every other state in Australia had Google Transit.
But it seems the format might have met the GTFS standard but wasn’t quite good enough for Google. It’s taken another year to get it into Google Maps.
Last week there were hints it was on its way. Now it’s finally here. Better late than never.
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) March 22, 2016
It doesn’t seem to have realtime bus and tram data in it yet, despite it being available in some apps. Hopefully that isn’t too far away. Realtime train data is probably not going to happen until the train control systems are upgraded — a long term project.
You also need to be wary of directions around large station complexes. The GTFS spec seems to know where a station is, but not necessarily where the exits are, which becomes important for big stations like the CBD stations and Richmond. And platform numbers aren’t provided in the PTV feeds.
But it’s great to see this finally happen.
This is a real boon for locals and tourists alike when making unfamiliar trips. The interface — whether it be on desktop PC, phone, iPad — is excellent; way ahead of anything PTV has been able to provide.
If those who got it over the line happen to be reading, well done. So, where should I plan a trip to?
- PTV: Public transport has arrived on Google Maps
- Vic govt: Victorian Public Transport Joins Google Maps
- Google Australia: Transit information now available for Melbournians on Google Maps
Edit: Added quote from December 2005 email.