Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AATA's RideTrak goes mobile

A while back we got the tip on AATA's new RideTrak internet service. Choose a route at the AATA website, and it gives you the current location and status (early, on-time or late by X minutes) of the bus. While we were excited about finally getting access to the info, we mostly grumbled about how the service could be better. We, and many others, contacted AATA through their comment form to throw a bunch of well-intended, if demanding and uninformed, suggestions at them. High on that list was mobile access to the updates.

Well, ask and ye shall receive. The front page of theride.org now announces that riders can direct browsers on their PDAs and mobile phones to mobile.theride.org for mobile access to bus updates. We haven't tried out the mobile edition yet, but are impressed with what seems like a pretty fast response to rider requests by AATA. If you have tried the mobile version of RideTrak, let us know how it worked in the comments.

We're curious whether enough people use web-enabled phones and are willing to pay connection fees to make this a usefull for a significant portion of current and potential riders. If the AATA is still looking for ways to expand their reach, maybe offering a call-in automated service would be better for some.

In any case, we're impressed with the initiative that our transit service is showing in expanding access to route information. Thanks, AATA!

6 comments:

Edward said...

I tried it out on my Blackberry 7100t (T-Mobile). Here's some comments.

The page works, and it's functional as is. It loads fast, has just the data it needs, and gets the job done. Good job!

It could be better.

The AATA logo is kind of big and fills up the top of the little screen I have, so I have to scroll to get bus info. A smaller logo would still work fine.

I like the drop-down menu for the bus route selection.

My mobile browser doesn't support tables, so the text of bus status is a little hard to read. I wonder if the status could be reformatted as text, e.g. "outbound route 5 bus 403 has left thompson and madison 3 minutes late and is due at packard and south blvd at 4:13". Anything to compress the text would be worthwhile.

if you view a route, you get a screen with a refresh button (good) . you also get a drop-down with the default route (the #1) selected to go to, and so if you hit the GO button you get that route. If the default route could be set to the route you're on and not the #1 it would reduce input errors.

There are phone numbers listed for contact info at the bottom, but I wonder if a simple text input form at the bottom of the screen would be good for on-the-fly comments.

all in all very useful.

J. Bruce Fields said...

"My mobile browser doesn't support tables, so the text of bus status is a little hard to read."

Are you sure that's the problem? Just pointing firefox at it and looking at the source html (it's all just http and html, right?), they appear not to be using tables at all, just text with <br>'s between, and everything inside <center>'s. No surprise nothing lines up right....

Edward said...

Hm, you're right, it's not tables that's the issue - but certainly centered text doesn't work on the little screen either.

I managed to catch the Link Bus today with the help of this, would have been unsure whether it had gone past my stop otherwise.

Bobbie MacDonald said...

AATA would like to thank you for taking the time to try and then write about your experience. We want to give our customers something useful and accurate. Please continue to use and let us know any further enhancements you would like to see. We take them all into account.

Bobbie MacDonald - IT Manager AATA

Edward said...

Thanks Bobbie. I have seen some changes, and they've all been good.

I do note that some routes (the 5, for instance) that have two end points on the outbound route, and the status report doesn't say which is which. It would be useful in some cases to say "Bus 403 to Ypsilanti" vs. "Bus 395 to Meijer Carpenter Rd" instead of just "Outbound".

The transit map hacker in me would love to see the entire status of the bus system (all the buses for all the routes) downloadable on one page, so that if you were in front of a computer you could get the whole thing in one page load and not 20. If that data is then formatted in XML or JSON or RSS, I could put a "where's the bus" widget for my bus routes on my blog with a little coding on my side.

Billy Donovan said...

I just got a data plan on my mobile. I pretty much do not need my computer anymore since I do so much with my mobile phone. The neatest thing is that I can even watch naughty movies:) It is pretty neat, it's called Mobile TV. All I do is point my phone to sexoncell.com and they have adult mobile movies in different formats like 3gp movies, symbian, pda or whatever. If you have any other cool sites, please let me know! This one, though, even has a free daily mobile movie.