Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nearest bus stop may be online

A few years ago, I represented the newspaper at a San Francisco awards luncheon for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

It was at a hotel in the heart of San Francisco and traffic was a nightmare. My husband and I navigated busy streets until we found a parking garage. It wasn’t until later that we discovered the hotel was near a stop for the cable car network.

Imagine how much more relaxing it would have been to have parked the car at Fort Mason, walked to Ghirardelli Square and hopped on a cable car. Maybe browsed at the Book Bay, run by the Friends of the San Francisco Library.

When we visit Ashland, Ore., we like to walk the Bear Creek Greenway into the downtown. After attending a matinee at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, we discovered a Rogue Valley Transportation District bus stop only a couple blocks away that would bring us within a quarter-mile from our hotel.

It became a very pleasant routine during our stay in Ashland -- walk into town via the greenway and then take the bus back. Of course, we found out the hard way one Saturday, after having walked into town, that the buses only run Monday through Friday.

Using public transportation involves research on the part of a traveler. Since most of us travel by car, we can’t guarantee that hotels will stock bus route brochures. You might have to surf the Internet to look up the service provider and then pull up a schedule of routes. On foot, you might have to look for an information kiosk.

For each area you travel through, you’ll have to research the transportation options. Is it any wonder, then, that most of us travel by car? There’s a potentially simpler solution at www.google.com/transit, as soon as transportation networks come online.

Trillium Transit Internet Solutions recently brought a proposal before the Lake Transit Authority to prepare an “open source” data feed containing bus stop coordinates and schedules for the Google Transit database. Trillium would also provide software to automate schedule changes, set up a trip planner on the LTA Web site, nbsp;www.laketransit.org, prepare data to enhance the quality of Google’s mapping Lake Transit routes and develop maps for the LTA Web site in the Google Map format.

Transit Manager Mark Wall noted that the use of Google Transit would enable Lake Transit to qualify for intercity service grant funding under a requirement that applicants demonstrate the ability to distribute information on a broadly-used Internet system.

Talk about a win-win situation! Travelers to and from Lake County would be able to coordinate their trips via the transit lines and our local transit authority would qualify for necessary funds!

The caveat, however, is that between here and anywhere else, all other transit authorities also have to be onboard. VINE network in the Napa Valley, Golden Gate Transit in the Bay Area; Santa Rosa municipal buses, Mendocino Transit Authority: they all have to similarly contribute a data feed of their coordinates or else Lake Transit is going to be an island of connectivity.

Let’s hope that these other agencies are willing to join Lake Transit in cyberspace.

Published July 22, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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