TransitView: SEPTA unveils real-time bus and trolley app, also SMS and smartphone schedules - Philly

Jun. 1, 2011 9:33 pm

TransitView: SEPTA unveils real-time bus and trolley app, also SMS and smartphone schedules

The web app relies on GPS-enabled SEPTA buses and trolleys
Now you can know just when your bus is arriving.

SEPTA will unveil Thursday its long-awaited real-time bus and trolley application, along with SMS and smartphone schedules, transit agency officials announced.

Dubbed TransitView and designed to be accessible by most smartphones, the web app relies on GPS-enabled SEPTA buses and trolleys to track precise positioning on a Google Map, as depicted above, SEPTA Director of Emerging and Specialty Technology Michael Zaleski told Technically Philly.

In addition to TransitView, SEPTA will also announce its ‘Schedules to Go,’ which can be accessed by text message or a web-enabled smartphone. Currently these are static schedules and not real-time, though there are internal plans for real-time eventually, Zaleski said.

GPS devices were first started to be put on buses almost a decade ago, Zaleski said, and envisioning for this project began more than two years ago. TransitView was a year-long project, involving geocoding each bus and trolley stop and extensive quality assurance.

The project is the result of efforts from SEPTA’s Control Center, its IT, Planning and Communications departments.

In coming months, all of the real-time json and XML data will be released as an API, Zaleski said.

The GPS tracking devices on the buses and trolleys update their position every three minutes, and the app shows their last known location, rather than making predictions, as weather or tall buildings can sometimes block check ins.




Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of, the local technology news network. In that capacity, he is a co-organizer of Philly Tech Week, Baltimore Innovation Week, Delaware Innovation Week and other events that bring smart people together. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here and curates a personal monthly newsletter of ideas and links here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

  • Froyo

    Way to spoil a announcement. How’d you get the URL when it isn’t announced yet?

    • The deployment of real-time info on buses and trolleys has been talked about for at least a year or so, and we’ve seen our tech community play with portions of it.

      Once SEPTA sent out a press release calling for an unveiling of something like this, we were able to use what we already knew.

    • Froyo

      They didn’t give you the URL. So whoever was bribed for it, wasn’t doing their job.

  • Bernie

    Will the app eventually include trains…uh…regional rail?

  • Pingback: SEPTA’s Real Time Bus/Trolley App()

  • Jimmy

    Wonderful idea! Those stinkin hump busses are always running late!

  • “designed to be accessible by most smartphones”

    Am I missing the mobile page for this or is it not completely rolled out yet?

    Once you zoom in to the map takes over any touch gestures. Accessibly yes, useable, no.

  • Pingback: Dispatches from Philly: SEPTA bus tracking goes live :: Second Ave. Sagas()

  • Here’s a rough mobile version built from the data this uses:

    • Yes, Chris,
      That was a partnership between youse guys at Devnuts and the fellas at Code for America, with obviously some support from SEPTA. More details are coming out about that and some other developer offerings. Thanks!

    • Quick note as I’ve seen a few people trying to access with Firefox — it’s built on the Sencha Touch framework which only supports webkit browsers. That means you’ll need Chrome or Safari to peak at it on your desktop, but it’s intended primarily for iOS and Android touch devices.

      Looking for suggestions on how to better organize the route list for mobile browsing.

  • MIke Z

    I don’t think that posting links 12 hours before a media event is any kind of spoiler – especially to a niche community of technologist who’s interests extend beyond that of the regular rider. In fact, I think that this community should be more involved as they have expertise that can only improve the offerings made available to transit riders and the region at large.

    There is a working Google map version of TrainView, but it still needs some work. Subway and El is also coming, but will take longer. As will a nice API for all this stuff. If you’re interested in this line of discussion, I invite you to join:

    TransitView was designed for the web, not smart phones. I think the comment was more like “it can be accessed by newer phones.” As Chris A. and Chris W. point out, is online as a result of collaboration and it uses the same json and kml data sources as TransitView. The app works great on touch devices, but not very usable on others; there’s definitely no shortage of niches to fill. I think what we have to come away with is that the information is being made available. I’d rather have a web version now and wait for the others, than wait for ‘everything’.

    Disclaimer: I work for SEPTA and these opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent SEPTA’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

  • Sarah

    More than anything, I hope SEPTA uses this technology to better there own services. I’m trying to make the best of public transportation and take the buses each day (subways are a huge unsafe fail in Philadelphia). While the technology is great to know “where” a bus is, it does nothing when you’ve been waiting 15+ minutes and/or have buses passing you that are over capacity and no longer picking up. I pulled up one of my normal routes that I constantly am waiting for and could already see that what I’ve always expected — buses running on the tails of one another and huge gaps in between. I can see this causing more frustration on the customer than any good. Until SEPTA makes an effort to have their buses run efficiently and on time, the technology provides no real substance to the customer in my opinion.

  • Mike Z

    Hey Sarah,

    Sorry so cynical. I think knowing when the buses are stacked up is better than guessing if they are or not. Though I agree that keeping good, safe service is first and foremost. Having said that, you cant knock being a more informed rider. Just out of curiosity, whats your route?

    Crowding on the buses is obviously a problem, I got passed up by a 23 this morning and it made me late for work; luckily my trip isn’t too long. Pass-up and crowding info would be nice, we’ll look into it.

    Keep those ideas flowing!


  • how do i get a gps location and time of arrival for a septa bus on a nornal (simple phone as a sms message to give time for next bus at my gps location?

    also when is septa going to print the star locations on their schedules:

  • Anonymous Coward

    Headline Fail.

    3 minute delay does not make it real-time.

    For me, this app is useless unless it is true real-time. Do you know how far a bus can travel is 3 minutes hitting all of the green lights? From center city well into ucity.


    “Our vehicles transmit data on their current position every 3 minutes. TransitView refreshes moments after with the new bus/trolley location information and that is what you will see on the route map and individual vehicle status bubble.”

  • MIke Z

    The buses update their position every 3 min. The page refreshes every 30 sec. If you refresh, you’ll get the most current positions. 10 sec polling would be nice, but unless enough people lobby for funding….

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