Google Transit for Vancouver's TransLink Launches Officially Tomorrow

The other day, Paul Hillsdon tantalized us combination transit geeks and web geeks with a graphic showing Google Transit and TransLink together, implying that Vancouver's transportation authority was going to have their routes and time schedule included in Google's maps. TransLink sent me an invitation (to an email address that I don't even use), and I posted an event listing on Urban Vancouver for the official launch, which happens tomorrow (Thursday, November 1st) at 10:30 AM at SFU's Harbour Centre Fletcher Challenge Theatre. I'll be there along with my citizen journalism and transit fan buddies documenting the event.

It turns out that Google Transit Vancouver is live: if you visit and type in directions for two points in Vancouver, you'll get reasonably good routes. Some are reasonable, like getting from Port Moody to Waterfront Station (it recommends the 160 in the afternoon, and the West Coast Express in the morning, though it shows it as a straight line hovering over Burnaby and Vancouver). Some aren't so great: getting from my work to UBC they recommend taking the #4 or the #8 all the way, when I would have suggested getting to Broadway and Granville via the multiple ways to do that, then take the #99 B-Line express bus to the university campus. But still, did you see that? I can now directly link to transit directions so that I can share it online. Also, you really have to force it to get a route that includes SkyTrain, which is usually faster from point to point along its route than a bus. I also found it difficult to get directions from one place name (without an address, e.g. GM Place or the various combinations of "Brentwood Station", "Brentwood Mall", and "Brentwood Town Centre"). I also hear it's hard to get a route that recommends the SeaBus. I still love you, SeaBus.

Walking indicator in Google Transit

There are nice touches, like little indications for walking, since taking transit means you're not walking from a parking spot but rather from wherever you're let off. I'd like the ability to change directions by dragging around or suggesting a route # that you might already know of, and having Google learn from what transit users contribute. Every day while riding SkyTrain I marvel at how many people take it and how much route knowledge they have based on information they get from TransLink coupled with trial and error. (There's nothing saying that the fast way to go is always the best way: I often go out of my way to walk farther and take a longer commute so that I can take both SkyTrain lines either to work or back home. In other words, I'd like a button called "optimize route for fun".) This has already been requested, but I'd also like Google Maps and its direction functionality to include bike maps for those whose commute involves that mode of transportation, and integrate it with driving and transit directions. Who says you can't bike to the SkyTrain station, lock your bike there—or take it with you—and take the train to your meeting?

This is something I've been wanting for almost two years since Google launched Transit for the Portland, Oregon area. At the time I even asked TransLink if they had plans to integrate with Google, and the answer was no. Now they have, and I commend both TransLink and Google for working together and getting this done. I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible with getting the information out of Google (e.g. a conference recommending routes from downtown and their airport and linking to them or including them inline on the conference website), and the increased ease of use over TransLink's own trip planner. Like TextBus, I anticipate using this at least twice a week.


In fairness, Google Transit does recommend the #44, which works during weekdays, and that's fine. But on a Saturday it still recommends nothing involving the #99.

Glad you'll be able to make it, Richard. I'll be there demoing--make sure you come up and say hi after the talk!

Looking forward to it Joe! As an aside, Ian King noticed the place names thing too, trying "Steveston" and "Willowbrook Mall".

I like how it's possible to visit directly, do a search, and switch to "take transit" instead of drive. Makes the whole thing a lot more intuitive. I won't be at the event, but hats off to transit team Vancouver, public, private, and Googled, for making this happen. There's a very clear invitation on Google's transit site for city officials to help Google make this happen. Perhaps this will help to put faces with names in transit agencies everywhere. Now, if we just had a reputation system for the bus, perhaps we might even get a bus running on time every once in awhile? -

Mystery of the email address solved: the person who gathered the addresses for the invitee list saw a contact form but wanted a real address. So be it: I'll put my real email address on my contact form, since spam isn't that big of a problem anymore. Alex: I did finally get to put a face to some names, inside TransLink and outside, so this was one of the best events I've gone to in terms of networking. Funny what happens when you mix two passions of mine! I'll have more to report, but Joe demonstrated the fact that user-created maps show up in Google Transit, at least with respect to stuff to places that people have seen. That and the rest of it deserves a longer article, however.

FYI, Google Maps recently improved its handling of ambiguous directions queries like the ones you mentioned above. For example, you can now ask for transit directions from "lonsdale quay" to "tim hortons".

Right on. I typed in "GM Place" and my office name (we had put in a listing for ourselves the first day we could), and it gave me good directions. No transit needed if I type in "Vancouver", but it recommends the 50 if I don't type in the city name. Granted, I used the old company name, since we haven't updated the listing for the new company. I'll make a note of it internally! Thanks for pointing that out, Joe!