OneBusAway Faces “Number of Options”
Some 50,000 Seattle transit riders use the popular OneBusAway bus-tracking program per week says creator Brian Ferris, a graduate student who’ll finish up his work at the University of Washington shortly, and head off to work at Google Transit.
That last news has created consternation in about 50,000 hearts, as it’s not clear what will become of OneBusAway once Ferris departs. On his blog, Ferris tries to allay concerns:
…we’re not pulling the plug on OneBusAway the day I graduate. OneBusAway is NOT “abandoning Seattle“. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure the lights stay on and while I can’t say exactly what that will look like at this time, know that there are a number of options on the table and I’m confident we’ll find a solution going forward.
Ironically, when GeekWire reported that Portland had won out over Seattle as a test monkey for live transit updates, I breezily dismissed the news, since (as their story notes) we already have OneBusAway, and that’s about as good as it gets until Metro can install more modern, bus-centric tracking equipment, a process perhaps hindered by all the budget slashing of late.
When I spoke to Metro chief Kevin Desmond in 2009, he told me the first GPS bus would hit the road in late spring of 2010 and all would be newly outfitted by 2011. (I’m checking in with him now about a progress update.)
As for Ferris, he drops a few hints about what the future may bring: “My goal is that some day soon, you’ll be getting all your transit info from Google,” he writes.
And before I leave for Google this summer, I’m doing everything I can to make sure Puget Sound transit agencies are putting their best foot forward in terms of providing the data that powers service like OneBusAway and Google Transit. I won’t say too much about that now, but in case you doubt my conviction, know that I’ll be defending my dissertation and going through new employee orientation at King County Metro less than 24 hours apart.
This moment, interestingly, was foreseen by Desmond in that interview he gave. The question of whether or not Metro should try to “own” software solutions so that riders weren’t left to the whim of the market is obviously a live one. On the other hand, the OneBusAway code is open source, so there is always the option of simply handing the baton forward to one or more interested parties.