Portland's TriMet and San Francisco's Muni transit agencies saved thousands of dollars in development costs and service fees through the use of Open Source Software (OSS).

Transit agencies' experiences with Open Source Software to develop code for wayfinding technologies

Date Posted

Traveler Information Systems and Wayfinding Technologies in Transit Systems: Summary of State-of-the-Practice and State-of-the-Art

Summary Information

The Federal Transit Administration sponsored a study to provide federal guidance to transit agencies on current and future trends in the application of traveler information technologies as a means to expand transit agency deployments of these tools, which may result in an increase in transit ridership. The study provides a technology evaluation that:

  • Offers an understanding of wayfinding technologies and describes products and services.
  • Provides an overview of the benefits of these technologies and services for transit agencies and users.
  • Identifies challenges experienced by transit agencies regarding the use and implementation of wayfinding technologies, and gaps that exist in current technologies.
  • Identifies user needs to achieve broader deployment of wayfinding technologies by transit agencies.

The research team conducted a literature review and interviewed a total of 63 public and private organizations from across the nation, including transit agencies, State departments of transportation, university research centers, software developers, metropolitan planning organizations, and others. Additionally, the team visited seven major metropolitan areas where transit agencies were identified as leaders in the innovative use of transit wayfinding technologies. The case studies highlight significant technologies in the regions, and detail challenges and lessons learned to help facilitate the growth of advanced wayfinding technologies.

OSS is computer software that permits users to use, change, and improve the existing software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. Moving towards OSS and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) software systems moves transit agencies from being locked into proprietary systems - often designed outside of the business processes of the agency. General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is considered an evolving, yet, prevailing practice that is in its infancy, the final development of which will be based on an iterative process between transit agencies and developers. Portland's TriMet was integral to the development of the GTFS, which began as a means to obtain transit directions as fast as possible. The standard was designed to facilitate the sharing of data among transit agencies and others.
  • Portland, Oregon TriMet has cut the agency's annual service fees to $18,000, from a high of $45,000 through the use of Open Source Software (OSS). While OSS and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) software systems are not always valid alternatives, they should be weighed against off-the-shelf software applications for their relative costs and benefits.
  • Developers at San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) San Francisco, CA wrote their own code to convert Trapeze timetables into GTFS in two weeks, saving $40,000. San Francisco's Muni staff indicated they are willing to share the code with other agencies.
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