Metro officials looking for feedback on preliminary Google Transit interface

UrbanCincy has been contacted by thousands upon thousands of Cincinnatians clamoring for Google Transit to come to Cincinnati. Virtually every bus-related story published on UrbanCincy over the past three years has included at least one comment expressing this desire.

Those who ride buses operated by the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) have had the pleasure to use this intuitive transit planning system for some time, and most major transit systems around the country also are included. In Cincinnati, however, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has had difficulty working with Google officials in sharing data and getting the system functional for the region’s largest transit operator.

Cincinnati bus riders rejoice over Google Transit announcement

SORTA is currently working with Google and is in a testing phase for the transit mapping system, and they would like Metro bus riders to provide feedback to ensure that the service is working correctly before it goes live to the public.

Those interested in testing it out, and providing feedback, can do so by visiting Google Transit and simply entering in a beginning and end destination which you would like to travel by bus. The mapping system works exactly the same way as directions on Google Maps.

Once you give it a test drive, you can then provide feedback to SORTA by emailing, or by taking their short online survey. SORTA officials are asking that feedback be as specific as possible, so when referring to something you noticed, please provide the map URL and describe the error or positive result you received.

Those who contribute before Friday, May 6 will then be entered into a drawing where three randomly selected individuals will receive gift certificates for a month of free rides on Metro. Once testing is complete, SORTA officials hope to promote Metro on Google Transit to the public this summer.

  • The low contrast route numbers are obnoxious. I’m guessing that’s a Google issue & not SORTA. It found the art museum, tho without asking me, “did you mean?” the way Metro’s @#*! trip finder doohickey does.

  • J

    Trying to partially blame Google is ridiculous. Hundreds of public transit systems, many much larger and more complex than Cincinnati, were able to flesh out a working system. Let’s be honest, Cincinnati dropped the ball here.

    My understanding is that SORTA “lacked the resources” to get it done and is now relying on volunteers. Insert tax-related excuse here.

  • Jim Uber

    Agree on the low contrast route numbers. It found fountain square to UC via #18 and #78. However it found a 9:15 and 9:45 depart time for #18 from Fountain Square, but SORTA schedules show this bus has no morning departures after 8:10AM. The #78 route times were correct. The walk route portion incorrectly warned about possible missing sidewalks, even downtown. I don’t know if it should, but it didn’t show other routes such as the #17 or #19, even though those are more numerous.

  • @J: I’m not sure who attempted to blame Google for anything. In the story I said that SORTA had difficultly sharing their data with them. You must have read more into it than what was actually said.

  • J

    I think it was the phrase “SORTA had difficulty working with Google officials in sharing data.” As a professional programmer that to me implies a people-related problem, rather than a problem formatting their data for the Maps API. As said, I believe the real issue was more so one of resources. No one’s data would be in proper format, initially.

  • Neil Clingerman

    I was around when both Metra and the CTA went on Google maps. It was a smooth transition, and Chicago’s mass transit system is huge. There are some pretty convoluted routes in the Loop too that I would have never known about had it not been for Google Transit. No public input session was required. SORTA is being sorta a transit system as usual – this is deplorable.

  • @Neil Clingerman: I don’t understand why it is “deplorable” that Metro is engaging the public and asking for feedback (while also offering up free monthly bus passes) before they go public with Google Transit. Care to explain?

  • J

    Overall Randy this is good news, but Metro should’ve made this a priority years ago. When visiting other cities, Google Transit on one’s smartphone has proven invaluable to help in getting around. On Metro’s facebook page several years ago they gave lots of cryptic explanations on why there was no Transit integration yet. Had they communicated the real problem I would’ve volunteered myself, and had this done several years ago.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Just the fact that other far more complex transit systems didn’t have this much trouble getting Google up and running. Its cool to get public input and all, but I didn’t see this in Chicago. They obviously went through a testing phase, but it was much smoother, and much faster to get up and running.

    Working in systems myself, I’m kind of echoing J’s comments – the issue is with the users getting the data to Google, not with Google getting the data into the right format.

  • Jill from Metro here – I understand the frustration. Metro had problems integrating the structure of our route system so it would work in Google. But we’ve made some changes and it appears to be working. We are now asking for feedback before we fully promote it so we can pinpoint any errors that need to be fixed on our end.

    (Note that for our Summer Service change on 5/29, we will be renaming/combining some routes so it will work better with Google Transit.)

  • I have found Metro’s trip taker website to be so bad as to be completely unusable. I often wonder whether or not I could take a bus to an place/event, but gave up trying to sort through the different schedules. Hopefully, this will allow people like me who don’t want to hassle with complicated schedules and unusable websites to start using mass transit more frequently.

  • I just don’t understand the negativity surrounding this topic. For just about every single bus-related story I have written over the past three years I have gotten negative comments on this topic. Now, once it finally arrives, people are still fussy.

  • J

    Jill, looks good so far. Will try it out tomorrow.

  • I’ve tested the Google system for a bit this morning. Routing is very easy and it’s great to finally have integration with TANK’s NKY routes. Color coding for the route numbers is pretty cool too. Overall, this is a much needed step in the right direction. Regardless of the years long delay, I am excited to use this and the “Frequently Used Bus Map” to plan my bus trips!

  • Jon

    I’m glad it’s finally here! It has shown a lack of vision from SORTA that it’s 2011 and we’re finally getting the beta of a system that has been in places like Morgantown WV for almost 4 years and hundreds of other cities for just as long. All that aside-i’m glad it’s finally here!

    I’ve noticed the same thing– I travel from downtown to Ludlow/clifton almost daily and I notice that it will rarely give me the 17 18 and 19 options– usually sticking with just several different times on one line- for example, I know that there’s an 18 arriving in between the several options of 17 arrivals it shows me– I’ll be sending them an email about it,

    Overall pretty good though–

  • What’s the purpose of color coding the route numbers? It’s not really reflected in the map.

  • Finally. Kudos to Metro for finally starting to get their act together. I only played around with this briefly, but it looks quite promising.

    My understanding of the issues were two-fold: 1) that Metro’s data was in a very outdated format (text files I think I heard), and 2) that Metro simply didn’t have the staff to fix it and needed volunteer help. Glad they’ve worked through it, though, and that Google Transit is up and running–even if just in beta so far.

    Now, if they can just get their routes on time (as per schedule and reality), we’d be really getting somewhere. Fixing the mess that is UC|Metro would be a nice goal, too.

    On a different note, does anyone have a link to the changes taking effect in May? I’ve read about them a couple times, but have yet to concretely see what they are.

  • Dale Brown

    Randy, I think everyone is just bitter it takes forever to Cincinnati Gov’t entities to do anything; like has been pointed out, its not terribly complicated to set this up, and I’m sure if SORTA had asked for assistance some people could have easily set up the routes for them years ago.

    I use google maps every time I’m in another city looking for mass transit, its awesome, especially in NYC and Boston when you have to take trains/subways/buses.

    I did try to use it once in NKY, was sorely disappointed in the crazy route I would have had to take to get downtown.

  • Nate Wessel

    I love the subtitle of the picture 😉

  • In the next few weeks Metro will be posting the service changes on its website, We’ll also post updates on Facebook,, and Twitter,!/cincinnatimetro. These changes are just re-numbering routes so it will work better with Google transit (no major route changes).

    I’ve inquired about the color coding – pretty sure that’s a google thing.

    Thanks to those who have tested and sent back feedback. We appreciate it.

  • Thanks for being present in the comments here, Jill. I love the fact that SORTA and Google are taking the intergration step together. As someone who has used Google transit in other cities, it feels great to know that it will be coming here in full force soon. Thanks!

    I’d also like to point out that the SORTA website viewed on a smart phone is just about useless. Transit riders are, by definition, mobile people. While many of SORTA’s transit riders would not sure this feature, I think some people might be tempted to jump on a bus that they might not normally ride if they could easily know where it was going by using a mobile device. Google transit takes one huge step in that direction. A fully functioning mobile site (or an app, for that matter) would be another one.

    Keep up the good work.

  • @David C. Ben: Didn’t someone submit a smart phone application for Metro bus service as part of Cincinnati Innovates’ contest last year? I’m pretty sure someone did, but it did not receive enough votes to receive funding.

  • You know, that sounds familiar, now that you mention it. I’m not sure what ever happened with that. It is possible that it never got the funding so it never came online.

    Although, with all of the talent in this city, I wonder why no crafty programmer has stepped up and done it on his/her own? I say that with absolutely no clue what kind of work and investment it would take to pull off, only my own naive desire to use one. For free. So, yea…

  • We absolutely know we need a new website and to be more mobile-friendly and we are working on making that happen.

    It will be a new ballgame once our new transit communication system is in place ( By 2012 we should be able to work with a programmer to create a mobile app that would have real-time bus information available! (I am very excited about this!)

  • Thanks for the response, Jill, and for your work on this. I look forward to seeing the changes!

  • It looks fantastic and does seem to work well with TANK, too.

    Any chance there’ll be a public API, Jill?

  • grif

    I think this is really helpful for those of us who want to use public transportation more often but just found it too confusing. I know I will ride more often.

    For those of you who live/work in Clermont County, I have been told by CTC that they will have their routes on Google in about a month or so.

  • I just tried Google Transit for some theoretical trips where I would like to take public transit, but have typically used a car. Paint me impressed! I know this is still in beta, but I will be using this for those occasional outside of walking distance trips going forward. Great work!