Transportation Techies build data tools to communicate transit’s needs - Mobility Lab

The fact that Transportation Techies (our geeky meet-up group) even exists shows that we swim in a sea of data.

Luckily, there’s a conversation bubbling among transit agencies and advocates about how best to interpret and communicate the travel data that agencies collect.

Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night III provided a platform for tech-focused transportation officials and for coders to show what agencies and individuals are able to create with the information that already exists.

Getting meta(data)

Tim Witten from Blacksburg Transit, which serves Virginia Tech, discussed how he makes sense of the data he has available to keep up with booming ridership. He refers to this as pulling insights from the “data swamp.” To start, Witten explained how complete data sets are inherently messy, and anything that is clean and polished suggests important information is missing.

Because he serves a large university, Witten has a unique overcrowding problem: the last buses onto campus before morning classes begin tend to be over capacity, forcing drivers to pass over stops in closer to campus. To fix this, Witten wants to develop a tool that would help students spread demand for buses away from the last ride before classes start.

By combining datasets, like automated passenger counts and historical ridership information, the tool would tell students which buses are likely to have space, which ones could run out of space soon, and which ones are almost certain to be full by the time they reach the selected stop. Though this might not be helpful if a student is checking just before the final bus arrives, ideally it will quickly show them the value of waking up earlier for their next morning class.

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