Open Data and Anxiety Help Transit Apps Thrive

Transporter Muni app

Transporter Muni app

En Español

Ever waited for a Muni bus? Duh. Of course you have, and it’s just that anxiety — a state felt by thousands, according to key findings in Ljuba Miljkovic’s research for his master’s thesis at the UC Berkeley School of Information — that has fueled the creation of Muni apps. That, and the open data needed to make them.

Miljkovic himself created the Transporter, a free app for the iPhone. It tells riders when the next bus will come, shows route lines, and has been downloaded 3,000 times since it launched in May.

It’s at least the seventh transit application to take advantage of NextBus data since November 2009, when the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency officially claimed ownership and opened the data to developers.

NextBus tried to corner the data in June of last year, and as the SF Appeal and SF Weekly chronicled, the back and forth temporarily shut down two Muni apps, including the popular Routesy.

Since the SFMTA won, Routesy is back up and competing against others that began crowding into the field, including Go to There, which launched in December 2009, Metronow in January 2010, MuniMe in February, PocketMuni in March, MuniApp 2 in April, Transporter in May and Muniverse in July.

Each is trying to find a niche.

Transporter and Go to There, for example, stand out because they are free. Others range in price from 99 cents to $5.99.

Four of the apps can save favorite lines, four have trip planners and one offers Muni-related tweets.

Like many of the developers, Miljkovic and Nick O’Neil, who developed Muniverse, created the app because they rode Muni and understood some of the anxiety.

“There [are] a bunch of public transit apps,” Miljkovic said, “I wasn’t particularly in love with them, they didn’t help me with the way I use public transit.”

He wanted an app that told him when the buses arrived at their destinations and displayed nearby stops, he said.

Public transit developers are not the only ones benefiting from the city’s open data policy.

The restaurant inspection data released by the Department of Public Health, a reader pointed out, has been used to create Clean Scores, SparkleDine and Restaurant Inspection. However, the data gives only a vague description of the violations, a score between 0-100 and occasionally some inspector notes.

Nicholas Capizzani, the developer of the San Francisco Parking iPhone app, told Mission Local in June that he was in talks with the SFMTA about using real-time data from the SFPark program once it is available.

O’Neil said the experience with the Muni data and NextBus has helped others by setting a precedent that city data is open data.

Without it, he added, apps like his “would not be possible.”

What is your favorite Muni app?

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5 Comments

  1. Rigoberto,

    Maybe you should get your facts straight. NextBus, Inc. has never tried to “corner” the market on Muni or any other transit agency’s data. NextBus has worked diligently with its customers to make our predictions – the result applying our patented algorithm to latitude and longitude information and historical data – open to all. In fact, we – NextBus – recently sponsored a contest in Boston for the best 3rd party application to use our arrival information data. The more the merrier. Our expertise is producing the most accurate real-time passenger information in the world.

    [NextBus, Inc. and NextBus Information Systems are two separate and unrelated companies]

    Larry Rosenshein
    NextBus, Inc.

  2. Larry, I think it’s pretty clear from the articles linked that no one in this city understands the difference between the two entities. Understandably, since they use the same logo, name, etc.

    Rather than being insulting, why don’t you inform us on the difference between the two so we can help other people not make the same mistake?

  3. Michael Smith

    Nick, the articles you listed actually explain the difference between “NextBus Inc” and “NextBus Information Systems”, the two separate companies. So your writing that “NextBus” limited the availability of data is indeed very misleading to your readers. If you want more info you can even talk to the app developers directly. They will tell you what transpired.

  4. Nick – thanks for your comment. I certain didn’t mean to be insulting. I just wanted to clear up the confusion.

    Larry

  5. I’m curious, do either NextBus Inc or NextBus Information Systems currently provide any data feeds for arrival information?

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