This blog is an unofficial resource for the Hamilton Street Railway company. I don’t work for, nor am officially authorized by, the HSR. I run this blog, the Hamilton Transit Facebook page and the @HSRTransit Twitter handle for one reason: I love public transit in our city.
Unfortunately there is a second reason I am running these sites.
There is a gap in what transit users in the city want, need and expect and what the city has to offer. I volunteer my time to help fill that gap.
The Open Hamilton group has been advocating for open data in the city, including transit data. Once released to the open source community, apps could be made for mobile devices. Features for such applications could include next bus times and schedules for all routes. Updates for detours could also be implemented.
While the official HSR page on the City of Hamilton website has this data it is in no way mobile friendly.
All of the timetables, maps and detour information are in PDF format. This is great for printing at home for use on the go but not very helpful for those already on the go. PDF files are not supported on Blackberry for instance, at least right out of the box. There is no native PDF reader built in and viewing such files requires purchasing and installing a PDF reader. Viewing PDFs is also cumbersome on mobile devices with limited screen sizes and large dimensions of timetable files.
The biggest complaint I read and received was the lack of simple mobile options, which led to the creation of a simple image based site of timetables. All of the data on the mobile site uses the physical take one timetables which means that the information is directly from the Hamilton Street Railway.
NEED TO KNOW MEANS NEED TO SHARE
When a detour is released people need to know before the morning of the detour. Nothing can frustrate and annoy a transit user more than heading out to their bus stop to find a notice up indicating a temporary detour. Time is precious and learning of a detour prior to departure is valuable knowledge to have. A good example of an upcoming detour with limited visibility is the upcoming Around the Bay Road Race detours.
As of Monday, six days before the road race which will result in significant road closures and transit detours there were no details on the city website regarding the impending detours. I inquired about the detours and the next day the website was updated with the detour information – on the detour page.
The front page of the page has no mention of any detour, nor does the current schedules or upcoming schedules pages. The only problem is that unless the average person knows enough to search for the detour page it would never be found.
You have to tell people that there is something happening and not simply hope that they will look for and find it on their own. I want to know and want to let every one else know. Someone within the public works department should have the authority to spread the word.
“The City is a little paranoid about social media these days. They are in the process of coming up with an official policy for all city departments (including HSR) regarding social media. Until they come up with an official policy, they have made it quite clear internally that only qualified people are allowed to comment officially on city business.”
This is a culture that needs to change within the city if they want to be more engaged with transit users and improve.
While the blog, mobile site and Twitter feed are all unofficial, it is my hope that one day the city will respectfully ask me to shut them down. Why would I be hopeful of this? It’s simple; I’m hoping that someday soon the city will realize the need for such services and start up an official equivalent.
Until that day happens that the city picks up the slack, or releases the data necessary for others to build applications to better keep users informed, I will continue to assist and keep transit users in the loop.
If you have a question feel free to ask. I will help and answer if I know the answer. Whenever needed I can reach out to the HSR for answers.