The Train Radar in Reisplanner Xtra (from NS, the Dutch intercity train operator) is a fun feature to show you trains nearby. The rest of the app is essential for efficient use of NS trains.
I’ve used a bunch of apps that are necessary when you’re traveling within and between countries in the parts of Europe I’m staying in an visiting this year.
The first app you should install is maps.me (iOS, Android, Amazon). It stores maps offline by downloading them from OpenStreetMap. Before leaving for the next city, download it on wifi! Each city takes up 25-60 MB on your phone, and it’s easy to delete a city’s map after you depart. This app is super fast, looks nice, has offline route planning, and can show any area in the world.
Travel apps for the Netherlands
Reisplanner Xtra, is essential because it has a journey planner for traveling within the country. It also shows real-time information, and even has a map of all the trains running in the country at that moment. It lists real-time OV-fiets bike availability.
NS International, for looking up timetables for trains between the Netherlands and France, Germany, and Belgium. You can’t buy tickets in the app, but it will link you to a shopping cart on the NS International website.
9292.nl, journey planner app for all public transport in the Netherlands. It doesn’t have network maps, though, if you’re only interested in where the Rotterdam Metro goes.
maps.me gets data from OpenStreetMap, the wiki-style map that regular people around the world edit (including myself). The map improves as more people add more information!
Travel apps for Germany
DB Navigator, this has all public transport in Germany, including intercity trains. It even has intercity trains for so many other countries, regardless if that train has service in Germany. When you look up timetables for trains outside Germany, it will rarely be able to show you the price, but just seeing the schedule, and what trains are available, is important. You can buy tickets within the app, and use the app as a mobile ticket.
Other travel apps
Rome2rio, is remarkable because it will show you all ways to get between two cities, and it works worldwide. It incorporates timetables and maps from local transit systems, intercity coach buses, intercity trains, flights, and driving. It’s multimodal, too. It won’t book tickets, but it’s the only service I know of that focuses on showing the multitude of options – simultaneously, with prices! – for future travel planning. And it’s super fast – I think it’s getting results before you even push the “search” button.
Rome2rio shows results for all modes (and combined modes) between two cities, here listing 11 options on trains, buses, cars, and plans between Stockholm and Mälmo, Sweden.
Skyscanner, this flight-finding service has more intra-Europe airlines than services popular in the United States (like Hipmunk, Orbitz, and KAYAK).
Captain Train is a continental train ticketing company with a nice app that will sell you tickets for service within and between many countries.
Voyages-sncf, is useful if you’ll be taking fast or regular intercity trains in France, but I don’t believe it has mobile ticketing. However, you can buy tickets in the app or on the website and pick up the tickets at a vending machine at many train stations in France. This is where I bought a Thalys (high-speed train) ticket; it’s better than NS International and the Belgian equivalent from SNCB.
United, this airline has implemented a superior entertainment system. I call it “Netflix in the sky”. To be clear, Netflix isn’t involved. It works like this: Install the United app on your device, and then connect to the airplane’s wifi network. There’s a server in the plane that has a lot of movies and TV shows, and these stream directly to your device. This is especially useful in United’s older 767 planes that don’t have seatback screens (IFE).
The U.S. DOT demonstrated one idea for how a National Transit Map might look and work at a conference in February.
The Washington Post reported this month that the United States Department of Transportation is going to develop a “National Transit Map” because, frankly, one doesn’t exist. The U.S. DOT said such a map could reveal “transit deserts” (the screen capture above shows one example from Salt Lake City, discussed below).
Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote in an open letter to say that the department and the nation’s transit agencies “have yet to recognize the full potential” of a data standard called the General Transit Feed Specification that Google promoted in order to integrate transit routing on its maps. Foxx described two problems that arose out of not using “GTFS”.
Transit vehicles have significantly greater capacity than passenger cars, but are often considered just vehicles because we are unable to show where and when the transit vehicles are scheduled to operate. The realistic treatment of transit for planning, performance measures, and resiliency requires real data on transit system operations.
One of the most important social values of transit is that it makes transportation available to people who do not have access to private automobiles, and provides transportation options for those who do. Yet, we cannot describe this value at a national level and in many regions because we do not have a national map of fixed transit routes.
“The solution is straightforward”, Foxx continued, “[is] a national repository of voluntarily provided, public domain GTFS feed data that is compiled into a common format with data from fixed route systems.”
The letter went on to explain exactly how the DOT would compile the GTFS files, and said the first “collection day” will be March 31, this week. As of this writing, the website to which transit agencies must submit their GTFS files is unavailable.
What Foxx is asking for has already been done to some degree. Two national transit maps and one data warehouse already exist and the DOT should engage those producers, and others who would use the map, to determine the best way to build a useful but inexpensive map and database. Each of the two existing maps and databases was created by volunteers and are already-funded projects so it would make sense to maximize the use of existing projects and data.
“Transitland” is a project to host transit maps and timetables for transit systems around the world. It was created by Mapzen, a company funded by Samsung to build open source mapping and geodata tools. Transitland is also built upon GTFS data from agencies all over the world. Its data APIs and public map can help answer the question: How many transit operators serve Bay Area residents, and what areas does each service?
For the United States, Transitland hosts and queries data from transit agencies in 31 states and the District of Columbia. In Washington, D.C., Transitland is aware of four transit agencies. It’s a great tool in that respect: Not all of the four transit agencies are headquartered in D.C. or primarily serve that city. The app is capable of understanding spatial overlaps between municipal and regional geographies and transit agencies.
Transitland has a “GUI” to show you how much transit data it has around the world.
No other agency or project has collected this much data about fixed-guideway transit lines in any of the three countries, since the map includes detailed information about line lengths, ridership, and other characteristics that are not included in GTFS data. Transit Explorer, though, does not include local bus service or service frequencies, which the DOT’s map may if it incorporates the full breadth of GTFS data.
Transit Explorer also goes a step further by providing data about under construction and proposed fixed-guideway transit lines, which is information that is very relevant to understanding future neighborhood accessibility to transit, but which is not available through GTFS sources.
Finally, “GTFS Data Exchange” is a website that has been storing snapshots of GTFS feeds from agencies around the world for almost a decade, or about as long as GTFS has been used in Google Maps. The snapshots allow for service comparisons of a single agency across time. For example, there are over 100 versions of the GTFS data for the Chicago Transit Authority, stretching back to November 2009; new versions are added – by “cta-archiver” – twice a month.
Josh Cohen, writing in Next City, highlighted the significance of Google’s invention of GTFS, saying, “Prior to the adoption of GTFS, creating such a map would’ve been unwieldy and likely produced an out-of-date product by the time it was completed.” The DOT’s own National Transit Atlas Database includes only fixed-guideway (a.k.a. trains) routes, and hasn’t been updated since 2004.
Not all GTFS feeds are created equal, though. Some transit agencies don’t include all of the data, some of which is optional for Google Map’s purpose, that would make the National Transit Map useful for the spatial analysis the DOT intends. Many agencies don’t include the “route shapes”, or the geographic lines between train stations and bus stops. Researchers are able to see where the vehicles stop, but not which streets or routes they take. Foxx’s letter doesn’t acknowledge this. It does, however, mention that transit agencies can use some federal funds to create the GTFS data.
David Levinson, professor at the University of Minnesota, believes the map will bias coverage (geographic reach of transit service) over frequency (how many buses are run each day that someone could ride).
The U.S. DOT’s chief data officer, Dan Morgan, whom I met at Transportation Camp 2015 in Washington, D.C., presented at the FedGIS Conference this year one idea to demonstrate coverage and frequency in Salt Lake City, using the GTFS data from the Utah Transit Authority.
Levinson also tweeted that it will be difficult for a national map to show service because of the struggles individual transit providers have symbolizing their own service patterns.
Foxx’s letter doesn’t describe how planners will be able to download the data in the collection, but whichever app they build or modify will cost money. Before going much further, and before spending any significant funds, Foxx should consult potential users and researchers to avoid duplicating existing projects that may ultimately be superior resources.
Foxx can also take advantage of “18F” a new agency within the General Services Administration to overcome government’s reputation for creating costly and difficult to use apps. The GSA procures all kinds of things the federal government needs, and 18F may be able to help the DOT create the National Transit Map (and database) in a modern, tech and user-friendly way – or write a good RFP for someone else to make it.
Updated October 21: Rahm has dropped the plan to privatize 311, but explained that the offer was less about saving $1 million annually than it was to upgrade the tech. I still don’t think it was explained well enough – or challenged enough by City Council – why a privatization was the “only” way to get an upgrade worth $25-50 million, or why the upgrade would cost that much. Then, there’s still the open question as to what happened to the RFP in 2014, looking for bidders to create a new 311 system. I’m also curious if any of the nascent civic-oriented CRM and Open311 startups would have a reasonable chance at responding to an RFP or privatization effort, or if the RFP process would largely exclude new or small players.
Last week, for budget “season” in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed privatizing the 311 system – where citizens and aldermen request services from any city department, and citizens get information about city services – as a way to pay for the technology upgrade the system desperately needs.
The topic of analyzing 311 data came up tonight at ChiHackNight, and I talked to a DePaul University Student interested in using their predictive analytics study on this rich (maybe) dataset.
I brought them up to speed on the changes made to the 311 technology system and created this “status” document to demonstrate the wild and whacky year of changes in 2012, and the stagnation since then. I’m publishing this because I also want to collect ideas and feedback about things I don’t know regarding the progress in redeveloping the tech that powers Chicago’s 311.
I pled with the Chief Technology Officer at the time, John Tolva, holding a new position in the mayor’s office, to enable 5 of the bicycle and pedestrian-related codes in the Open311 system, so that I can build apps for Grid Chicago, and later, Streetsblog Chicago, readers to request city services that impact the safety and quality around walking and biking.
The City of Chicago releases an RFP to remake the 311 system (September). One aspect of operating the system I noticed that better tech could probably have a big impact on is the number of service request taken by phone: 74%!
According to the RFP issued in 2013, 74% of service requests are taken by phone. Only about 6% are done through the web.
Companies respond to the RFP (I assume). Are these responses hosted anywhere? Smart Chicago Collaborative made Chicago Works For You, a dashboard that’s also the only Chicago + Open311 map.
The RFP never made it past “Step 4” in the Bid Tracker, or, “Short List Determination”. The Bid Tracker is really unhelpful at this point, though, because it doesn’t mark the date at which Step 4 was reached.
The helpful (to a point) Bid Tracker for the 311 RFP.
Mayor Emanuel announces a proposal to privatize the 311 system, including the technology and the staff, to be able to pay for the tech upgrade. Emanuel says it would save the city about $1 million annually.
Aldermen don’t like this. While I haven’t read up on their specific complaints, I believe they have to do with the quality of the jobs that would exist under a private operator.
Currently the 73** employees work for the city and have benefits like healthcare and probably some retirement assistance. The new jobs could be, well, anything, and if they’re like other call centers, probably pay less and could have worse benefits.
There’s also the question of whether anyone else can actually do the same (or better) job for less money (a question that 6th WardAlderman Roderick Sawyer raised). That means someone other than people in the mayor’s office need to be able to get a detailed look at the expenses of the 311 call center and tech.
Andy Shaw questions why the privatization proposal is coming up now: “The timing is odd because the administration recently sent an enlightened privatization ordinance to the Council for approval, so it’s logical for the city to wait until it’s analyzed, and then adopted, before embarking on new privatization initiatives” and “the ordinance has 40 aldermanic co-sponsors but hasn’t been heard in committee yet, so it’s premature to consider privatizing 3-1-1”.
Shaw suggests using the do-nothing legally-separate-entity Chicago Infrastructure Trust to upgrade the service. (The new board members Emanuel installed this year have “set an ambitious goal”, Shaw said, to convert the city’s streetlights to something more energy efficient. It would likely work by splitting the cost savings with a private contractor.
OsmAnd has great offline mapping features but it was tedious to ensure I had all of the maps at the desired zoom levels for the three-city bike ride in southern Illinois (pictured).
My friend is going to pick up a unique bicycle in Ohio and ride it back to Chicago. He designed a good route on Google Maps but now he needs to save it to his smartphone so he doesn’t have to constantly load directions and use data and waste battery life.
I gave him these instructions:
The best way to get a mobile view of the route is to use the Google Maps print feature and save it as a PDF. Then transfer that PDF to your phone through the Dropbox app. Then, in the Dropbox app, mark the PDF file as a favorite so that it’s stored offline, onto the phone.
There’s probably an app that can do what he wants, but I don’t know about it. There are hundreds of “maps” apps to sort through in each the App Store for iOS and the Play Store for Android.
In fact, I’ve downloaded OsmAnd, an offline maps app, for my Android tablet. I installed it and tried to learn how to use it in order to follow a downstate, intercity bike camping route. The app, though, required that you zoom in to each part of the map you wanted to store and then press “download”.
When the Slow Roll Chicago project in the transportation breakout group began in December at Hack Night, the emails started flying right away.
This was mainly because there was a lot to say at the start, as we needed to agree on the group’s mission and plan.
Problems using email started immediately, though. Not only were there many emails going back and forth among people listed on the TO and CC fields, there were people who weren’t able to take part in these discussions.
That happened because it was difficult to keep track of who had been added to the discussion and who hadn’t, especially when it came to integrating new members of the group.
I wanted to overcome these problems by using a proper collaboration tool.
Email wasn’t just limiting our discussion quality and member inclusion, it was also limiting file storage, file sharing, and file versioning (which file is the latest?). Email has tended to demand a lot of attention, and there’s a lot of wasted time typing responses. I wanted to use a tool that didn’t have such demands, and that helped organize responses into actionable requests and delegation.
Using email made it impossible to see what tasks people were working on, and the progress they were making at any given moment.
Finally, email tends to be private but our work needed to be public so that it could be independently verified but also replicated for use in other locales.
I believe that it’s easier to train people on how to use a new tool well than to retrain on how to use an existing tool – email – better.
GitHub has solved all of these problems for our group while also creating a secure and versioned programming code storage system for the final outcome: a website.
Hack Night being a tech-oriented meetup is a good reason to use and teach this modern tool widely used by people in technology industries. Many of our members are still learning it but they have support from people within our group and from others who attend Hack Night.
When you want to discuss a new idea, like using dynamic images to show what a building could look like under certain conditions, you would make a new “issue”, titled, “Use dynamic images to show the user some building design possibilities”. Use rich text and images in the issue to describe and visualize the idea.
GitHub has granular notifications settings that alert project members to this new “issue” after which they can respond to your idea. After it’s decided that the issue should be resolved in a specific way, you can assign the issue a desired milestone (a future project version) and project members.
One milestone could be “Preview to the management team” which is a previously-discussed status that should happen in a couple weeks. A second milestone could be “Post-launch” – things to finish after launching the product – that’s defined offline.
Each milestone tracks the issues that you’ve associated with it so you can see progress. When the assigned members finish a task, they “resolve” the issue by closing it.
Need documentation? For many coding or GIS projects, a data dictionary may be necessary and GitHub provides each project repository with a wiki in which you would describe how the project is set up, and what certain fields or values mean.
Finally, GitHub can store files – any kind, and as many versions. If you need to update a CSV file of street addresses for the project, just make the edits in your preferred editor on the desktop and then “commit” your changes with a short description of what you changed. Sync this commit back to the repository so that all project members now have access to the file.