OC Transpo is changing route numbers. How does Google Maps know?

OC Transpo
OC Transpo

When you’re trying to get from the Rideau Centre to Bayshore Mall, you may know that starting on Sunday you’ll have to take bus route No. 11 instead of the traditional No. 2. But how will Google Maps’ transit function know that?

It turns out, OC Transpo is tasked with keeping the popular transit system up to date on any changes to stop locations, schedules and alterations, including the 14 new route numbers coming into effect on April 23.

Transit agencies such as OC Transpo submit relevant information to Google in the form of the General Transit Feed Specification, GTFS for short. According to Wade Roush of Xconomy, Google Maps’ transit feature began as a side project for Google engineer Chris Harrelson. He worked with Tim and Bibiana McHugh, a married couple who worked as IT managers at TriMet, Portland, Oregon’s transit agency.

Together, Harrelson and Tim McHugh built a prototype for what would become the GTFS. The two developed an organized system for TriMet’s data, sorting relevant information such as latitudes, longitudes and route numbers into multiple comma-delimited .txt files that could integrate bus stop locations and schedules into the existing geospatial Google Maps program.

The project became Google Transit and spread to Seattle, the rest of North America and, eventually, across the world, establishing the GTFS as the standard format for transit agencies providing open data. The universal format has also given rise to a plethora of public transit apps.

So, to answer our question, OC Transpo provides this data to Google well in advance, avoiding any awkward hiccups on your daily commute.

For anyone feeling particularly nostalgic about the disappearing route No. 2 as it abdicates its rank for the impending east-west LRT line, Ottawa artist Andrew King will be riding the “Deuce of Ottawa” one final time on Saturday, handing out t-shirts as mementos before OC Transpo (and Google Transit) move on.


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