Stepping it up with Transit Score

Where you live has a huge impact on how much you drive. If your neighborhood has easy access to public transportation or there are a lot of amenities nearby, you can walk more and drive less (thus saving money while getting a little exercise). Front Seat’s Walk Score has become a well-known metric for determining a place’s walkability (Radar post). However, this only told a fraction of the story. How walkable a place tells you very little about the public transportation options. Today Front Seat is releasing Transit Score, a measure of how accessible public transportation is at a given location, and Commute Reports, that let you determine your commuting options.

To use Transit Score, just search for a location on the WalkScore site. Below the map (that shows all of the local amenities) you’ll find your overall score. So the neighborhood of Capitol Hill in Seattle has a great Walk Score of 95 and an iffyTransit score of 71.

transit score

However, it’s really all one’s personal needs and commute. An “iffy” Transit Score can be just fine if those bus lines go right to where you work. If you click on the commute tab you can figure out what your options are. Techies living in Capitol Hill that work in Redmond, WA (a common commute that I experienced in a former lifel) have multiple bus and biking options:

transit score commute

There is an API for Transit Score and it is already being used by Zip Realty (a launch partner). The Walk Score API currently does 3 million requests per day. Both those APIs reside on Google App Engine so those 3 million requests only cost them $10 per day.

agencies without open dataTransit Score is only available in cities ( 114 agencies in total) that release their data in the GTFS format (General Transit Feed — that G used to stand for Google). They suck in the normalized data from the handy GTFS Data Exchange. Through trial and error Front Seat has learned to only use data from cities that are reaching out to developers. There was a lot of transit data released via FOIAs, but it was very messy, out-of-date and error-ridden. Front Seat is currently waiting for 695 transit agencies to release their data. This wall of government shame is kept on City-Go-Round, a marketplace for transportation apps.

seattle transit heat mapFront Seat is very open about how they calculate Transit Score (and Walk Score for that matter). The algorithm uses route frequency (this is a proxy for location; more frequent equals more important e.g. buses come more often downtown), type (rail is deemed better than bus) and route distance. The heat map to the left shows Seattle’s transit

Front Seat is a Seattle-based civic software company. They make money off ads and a pro-version of the Walk Score API. Transit Score was funded by a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation. Their many projects back-up the claim of being civic-oriented.

Transit Score is a great example of why government agencies should open their data. Citizens can make better decisions when they have the data.

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