Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Observer Sees Google’s Future In Transportation Routing

with 8 comments

Information Week

It is really nice when I can report two positive innovation stories in the same morning (the other one was Qualicum). I ought to be doing my laundry, but this comes first.

It stems from a  Google patent application used to route its own employee buses

Using Google’s mapping technology, GPS location finding linked with Google employee cell phones, the buses and employees are connected efficiently in real time. Employees are informed wirelessly when their bus is approaching. Another iteration of the system appears to be in use at a Google facility in Korea, Arnold added.

While the system is useful now for the company, Arnold believes it can have wider use in larger transportation routing systems including highway systems and air traffic. The approach spelled out in the patent could have use anywhere routing is important, even in the spacing of cell phone towers, Arnold said.

As anyone who has read this blog for very long will know, I am very unhappy with the way we currently organise transit is most lower density areas – which is actually nearly everywhere, come to think of it. If there are lots of people along one “corridor” all going to one or two places, transit planning is easy. Back when the suburbs were simply bderoom communities feeding downtown, it was straightforward – doable. Now we have a very complex many to many trip matrix, it is exceedingly difficult, and most transit planning software – or even ride matching systems come to that – is, at best, “suboptimal”.

What I have said we need is a system that is better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi – and this looks like it could be a useful start

“Google wants to move people cheaply and intelligently and be environmentally friendly,” said Arnold. “Who’d ever thought that Google could be in the mass transit routing business? And it looks very casual.”

Well if anyone can do it, Google can.

And it was Microsoft that added the cup holders – let’s not forget that.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 14, 2008 at 9:58 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

8 Responses

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  1. Just a note, most LRT/tramway operations in Europe use GPS as part of their signalling system. On many lines , except for priority controlled intersections, GPS and line of sight (a tram driver driving) are used instead of expensive block systems. compare this simplicity with SkyTrain’s very expensive and complicated ‘Seltrac’ moving block system of signalling. What money is saved by not having drivers is paid out double or triple in hiring signalling engineers to keep SkyTrain at 100%. With an automatic (driver-less) transit system, signalling must be 100% or it shuts down. LRT never has this problem.

    Malcolm J.

    March 14, 2008 at 12:41 pm

  2. Mass use of this kind of technology is a little… hmm… frightening for me, not in a privacy sense or a doomsday sense but in that to accomplish something that should be simple, and that has been done since the dawn of time, we’re now pushing to transmit everything with little receivers everywhere. I think having bus stops with information like the B-Line (which seems to have been more like a schedule because I found it wasn’t always accurate) is a sensible step in that direction. At the moment most of the stops I see don’t even show what buses go by, let alone when — even on paper. Personally I want to see a reliable, frequent transit system first and then we’ll see if the minute-to-minute location tracking is necessary. Right now, though, it would be nice to know with a phone call to TransLink exactly where a bus is… but I have the liberty of owning a cellphone…

    Erika Rathje

    March 14, 2008 at 8:26 pm

  3. It would seem that in the case of Google you would have to sign up for a service. In the case of their own employees they know where they live and where they work, so the service they operate “simply” connects those two dots.

    For a transit type service it would be more like a shared ride taxi – or a divertable bus. You would send a message saying where you want to go and when, and they would send someone to get you based on your current location. In one sense it is no more threatening than ordering a pizza. And I know that Panagopolous has a fascinating database which reveals much about their customers. For the really significant feature of a real time database it how much you can learn about real travel patterns. Our current data is woefully inadequate and has been for years, yet we base billion dollar investments on forecasts made from out of date and very spotty data.

    Stephen Rees

    March 15, 2008 at 7:44 am

  4. *I agree that the significant feature of the real time database is how much is learned about real travel patterns.*

    Google started with bus route trip planning software for various cities, including Vancouver. I far as I know, this just uses scheduled bus times, not real time GPS administered schedules which the new trolleybuses would be capable of providing.

    Montreal is currently having trouble with buses getting through their designated routes on snow-bound streets. Cars are parked diagonally owing to the snow piled in the usual parking areas. The buses use alternate routes to navigate around the obstacles. The routes could be chosen by the new software, and advise passengers of the altered route and the estimated time of arrival. Perhaps this could be done on city information boards at bus stops, provided without charge to the city in exchange for advertising messages.

    GPS has been used in France for precision docking of the Civis and Agora buses. Precision docking cuts down on time the bus takes to stop and load, and therefore saves the transit agency money even if it would be only a few seconds at each stop, as calculated by Chicago Transit. This technology will surely be seen more as an ageing population becomes more reliant on public transit. The dreadful steep stairwells as found on the Boston green line trolley or Toronto streetcars will thankfully be a thing of the past.


    March 16, 2008 at 8:23 am

  5. When Vancouver got low floor trolleybuses in recent months, the only thing I heard about was the loss of seats, not the much greater ease of boarding

    Stephen Rees

    March 16, 2008 at 8:47 am

  6. Stephen: Do the new trolleybuses have GPS? I had heard from a reliable source that they would be equipped with GPS before being purchased, but once the order was finalized with New Flyer, and the troubles with the 98 B-Line real-time system, I didn’t hear anything.

    Wire guidance could be used for the trolley buses to assist in precision guidance, allowing up to 2 cm clearance of the platform. The overhead trolley wires could serve as the guide-wire, albeit providing less accuracy than buried wires or magnets. Some of the advantages of wire guidance or magnet guidance systems include being insensitive to weather, temperature, and pavement conditions. Disadvantages include
    sensitivity to other overhead power lines and poor longitudinal docking assistance.

    Here is a link in which you may be interested. Warning, file is 3/4 of a MB:

    The paragraph before the previous is paraphrased from page 6 to 8 regarding wire and magnetic guidance. The economic evaluation of precision docking is analyzed on pages 52 to 63 (section 3.2) for Lane Transit, LACMTA, and AC Transit of Eugene, Ore and California. One of the benefits is potentially increased safety, reducing sideswiping and rear-ending.

    On a slightly different track, a pseudo-trolleybus wire type system is being used for vehicle navigation. A virtual red trolley wire proceeds from the windscreen, turning like a trolley wire along the desired path, eliminating verbal descriptions such as “Turn Left, 200 metres ahead”.


    March 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm

  7. I cannot answer questions like that. I have no sources of information inside that organisation. But usually you can find out things like that from the bus enthusiasts

    Stephen Rees

    March 16, 2008 at 4:42 pm

  8. Or you can just look at Coast Mountain Bus Company’s web site.

    “For example, TMAC enables GPS (Global Positioning System) location of individual buses, so that dispatchers can respond to traffic and demand patterns and change route assignments accordingly. Buses can also be located more accurately in the event of an emergency in which the operator is not able to communicate the position.

    GPS location would also allow for further improvements in customer information functions, such as the newly launched Next Bus feature. Currently, Next Bus tells the user when the next six buses are scheduled to arrive at a given stop. With GPS, Next Bus will be able to tell a customer when the next six buses are actually expected to arrive.”


    March 17, 2008 at 6:01 pm

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