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University of Washington Students Create 'OneBusAway' Program To Encourage Public Transportation

UTC(s): 
University of Washington
Publication Date: 
November, 2010
PDF Version: 

Improving the experience of the rider is key to convincing customers to trade the comfort and convenience of their own vehicles for the economic and environmental advantages of public transit. At the University of Washington, students have come a long way toward attaining this goal by developing OneBusAway—a real-time transit information system available for free in a variety of formats: web, phone, SMS texting, Android, and iPhone. OneBusAway provides real-time transit information for Metro Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, and Washington State Ferries (www.onebusaway.org).

Because over 91% of Americans use cell phones, developing tools for riders on the go made sense to the creators of OneBusAway, and the launch of the iPhone application in September of 2009 and subsequent adaptation to other formats popularized the system in the Seattle area. The number of devoted users continues to grow; to date, there are approximately 30,000 unique users a week and more than 50,000 downloads of the iPhone application. While the GPS technology that enables real-time transit reporting is expensive to install, it is hoped that the long-term benefits of empowering riders with information will improve transit by increasing ridership and, ultimately, support for public transportation.

Using Mobile and Web Application Tools To Empower Bus Riders

For bus systems, which nationally make up over 53% of all public transportation, issues such as safety of the bus stop area, navigational confusion, lack of real-time arrival information, and convenience are primary reasons some potential riders do not use public transit. Overcoming these obstacles became the premise for the development of OneBusAway; key features include:

  • real-time arrival and departure information for public transit;
  • map display of stops and routes;
  • nearby stops search for location-aware devices;
  • bookmarks and recent stop history;
  • search for stops by route, address, and stop number;
  • explore tool that makes it easier to search for nearby restaurants, parks, shopping, and other locations easily accessible by public transit; and
  • integrated reporting system that allows users to notify the transit agency if there is a problem with the bus, bus stop, or inaccuracies with the real-time transit information.