NCTR’s 2007 National GIS in Transit Conference

The NCTR 4th National GIS in Transit Conference had over 100 participants from 13 states and three countries. The conference highlighted new developments and practices in the GIS and transit world.

Conference Presentation: Google’s On-line Transit Trip Planner

One topic which generated significant excitement among the participants was the presentation from Google Transit’s Naomi Bilodeau featuring highlights of Google’s free on-line transit trip planner. Naomi demonstrated the power of Google’s mapping applications with a hypothetical illustration of a trip using Google Transit. In her demonstration, she planned a trip from the airport in Portland, Oregon, to a hotel using public transportation. The transit trip planner included information on transfers, fare costs, and an estimate of the gasoline saved.

Naomi then wanted to find a list of restaurants near the hotel.  Again, using the Google maps web site, she searched for restaurants and the map generated a list and a map of restaurants near the hotel.  Using this information, she was able to access reviews of the restaurants, hours of operation, menus, and the restaurants’ web sites.  The integration of the geospatial information with transit and local searches highlighted opportunities to capitalize on the web resources of Google.  The presentation was both entertaining and informative and left the participants excited about the many developments forthcoming from Google’s efforts to make transit schedule information more accessible to the public.

Conference Sessions: Transit Data Models, Web-Based “Mash Ups” and Open Source Applications for Transit

The presentation from Google Transit highlighted the rapid developments in the area of geospatial technologies that underscore the importance of the conference and why it continues to be such an important conference to the transit and GIS community. The conference featured presentations on a wide range of topics and the sessions were designed with varying user experiences in mind. The beginner sessions focused on service planning and data management and the advanced sessions focused on data models and open source transit applications.

Feedback from the attendees indicated the sessions that addressed technical and cutting-edge applications were a welcome addition to the conference. The most noteworthy sessions were on transit data models, web-based “mash-ups”, and open source applications.  The transit data model sessions addressed the need for a uniform data format to share transit data across software applications and computer platforms.  The “mash-up” sessions introduced the concept and illustrated the power of combining data sources and applications to produce a new “mash-up” product such as tracking bus locations on web applications that called on Google maps and Microsoft’s Live applications.  The open source session addressed several open source applications for transit. The goal of the session was to introduce the participants to the idea of open source applications and the power of the TimeTable Publisher application being presented. The TimeTable Publisher application used the Google data format known as the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) to create print and web-based time tables.  A feature of open source applications is the ability of users to expand or improve on the existing applications.  Perhaps the most exciting feature of the TimeTable publisher application was its cost – it is free!

Closing Session: “Where to Go from Here”

The conference’s traditional closing session included a discussion on “Where to Go from Here.” As always, the closing session produced many ideas for future conferences, including pre or post-conference training, a poster session, and the creation of a GIS and Transit Clearinghouse.  The clearinghouse idea was born out of a discussion on the need for more resources like the conference.  In response, the NCTR has created the web site, which will become a repository of information for the transit and GIS community. The website will host the conference presentations and will serve as sounding board for the community.

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