GoTime works. Why are we replacing it?

By evan on Jan 13, 2014

Metro_Transit_new_stop_signHRM has a system called GoTime. It seems like a simple enough thing. You call, you get the time the bus will be there, you go on with your day.

This works, but is horribly inefficient. You have to call, use the prompts, and only get two routes. Often 10 routes or more can stop at a single stop, necessitating up to 5 calls. You also have to be standing at the stop to call. That defeats the purpose. I, and at least a few other programmers in the city have been asking for access to GoTime for years. Literally years. Every time is a different reason, and a different excuse. I’ve been told it’s impossible, it’s impractical, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, given provably incorrect reasons, and essentially lied to. The answer is always no.

Public access to GoTime is a “waste?”I have been informed that 70% of 311 calls are “where is my bus?” How many person-hours is that? How much money is the city spending telling hundreds of people every single day “Sometime within 15 minutes?” when they could just look it up themselves?

Impossible?”About a month ago, I was made aware of a page on Halifax.ca with a public GoTime search. You put the number in, it displays the buses. That was surprising, considering it was “impossible” just a couple of months beforehand. Since the city was running a competition for Apps4Halifax. I quickly created and submitted an app that used the users GPS, found the nearest bus stop, and redirected the user to the gotime listing. Simple, yet invaluable to an end user.

What does the city do? Pulls down the GoTime page, then sends me an email telling me my app was disqualified since it didn’t work. I ended up changing it to auto-dialing the nearest GoTime sign, which isn’t nearly as useful and having them put it back into the competition. When I contacted various departments and people looking for an explanation, I was told

“That page was readily available on Halfiax.ca website’s Transit Section”

AND

“the application was not offered to the public due to a number of technical and operational issues;”

Both of those answers can not be true. The second employee then turned around and said “The current Vehicle Locator data sets on which GoTime is based are not released to the public due to privacy concerns”

GoTime is not released due to PRIVACY CONCERNS? Upon further pressing, a couple of city councillors informed that Operator info was tied to the gotime schedules.

Apart from the obvious, the live schedules in major transit terminals show GoTime data, and no operator info. Funny how that works. The city has the capability to provide web access to GoTime, does internally, but will not release it to the public at large. At first I assumed incompetence. After the takedown, I’m convinced it’s malicious.

A few councillors cc’ed Eddie Robar, the director of Metro Transit for comment. His response?

I apologize if you expected a response from me. This inquire is being handled through HRM’s ICT division and my understanding is they have replied to your inquire.

I did not receive a response from ICT other than those which prompted that email to begin with. Two further emails and Robar still has not responded. I’ve noticed this is a standard practice with HRM, ignore people until they give up.

All I want to do is make transit easier to use. The city has nothing to lose, and a lot to gain by just cooperating with people. Apps4Halifax was a great start, but all I see is talk, and no action.

5 responses to “GoTime works. Why are we replacing it?”

  1. steve says:

    Is there anything we can do to help change this incredibly stupid policy?

    • evan says:

      Hi Steve,

      I’ve been trying for years. Even the councillors / mayor are powerless. The head of Metro Transit reports only to the CAO, and the CAO reports to council. That disconnect allows MT to work completely out of councils purview. There was an issue late last year where Eddie Robar simply didn’t show up, and his excuse was “I don’t report to council”

      In short; I wish.

  2. JJones says:

    I recently received an email asking me to consider making my app from Busbird.com available for Halifax. I would appreciate your feedback.
    As for the GoTime, I would’ve loved to have incorporated that data into a Busbird app too… 🙁 Hopefully the replacement is even better.

    • evan says:

      There actually is a similar app called “Knowtime” that launched a couple years ago.

      The issue with that is you only have coverage of buses people are already on.

      For what the city of Halifax is spending, you could put Busbird, or Knowtime in every single bus drivers pocket for the fraction of the cost of the rebuild they’re doing.

  3. Mark says:

    Just for your information (and others as well:) You can press just “#” at the prompt and get all of the numbers at that particular bus stop.

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