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Helping Rural Residents Use Google Transit

The third most common Internet activity in America (behind email and using search engines in general) is searching for a map or driving directions. For years, metropolitan transit users have been fortunate to have Google Transit as an all-purpose trip planner. But what works in the Bay Area doesn't necessary translate well in rural areas.

The "Northern California Google Transit Feasibility Study" has taken up the task of finding ways to broaden rural and small-urban transit service participation in Google Transit. The study was paid for by the Federal Transit Administration and the California Department of Transportation. The lead agency was the Shasta County Regional Transportation Planning Agency.

Federal law requires that communities that receive federal transportation funding coordinate their transportation services. The California Department of Transportation's goal in launching the study was to improve statewide connectivity between transit operators and thus improve the ability of travelers to plan trips.  In addition, the California 2-1-1 project, which seeks to bridge the information gap between human service programs and people who need them, expects widespread adoption of Google Transit to facilitate it's role in mobility management.

The study covers Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama and Trinity counties, an area of 40,868 square miles. Population density ranges from a high in Shasta County of 43 people per square mile to a low of 2 people per square mile in Inyo County.

Over the years,  Google Transit has worked with transit agencies to accommodate issues specific rural and small services. For instance, rural and small transit agencies often operate services unlike their urban cousins such as flexible routes and demand-response services. Rural and small agencies also tend to run more loop routes. But problems remain.

Among the issues participating transit agencies identified were:

  • In cases of long transit travel times, the trip planner will return walking trips and walking legs, if travel by transit takes significantly longer.
  • Queries for travel times more than 48 hours in advance of scheduled service return no results.
  • Maximum walking distance threshold prevents display of available transit service.

Participating in Google Transit is a decision the local agency must make. At the time the study was written, Siskiyou, Trinity, Shata and Tehama plan to implement Google Transit services. The sticking points remain the 48-hour window for schedules and the limit on walking distance. In addition, some Shasta County roads are missing from the Google road network.  Plumas Transit won't be using Google Transit until the Plumas Transit Reno-Quincy service is available on the trip planner.

The study also explains ways in which transit agencies can put transit feed data for use in timetable publishing, telephone-based interactive travel planning, mobile schedule access, data and service visualization and improved accessiblity for the disabled.

Detailed in the study are methods of publishing and maintaining Google Transit feed data for rural agencies.

The study is also included in the Best Practices: Northern California Google Transit Feasibility Study