Real-time and schedule data from Spokane Transit Authority (STA) is now available via OneBusAway, using the multi-region facility. The project to make STA’s data available was done by a group of Eastern Washington University students led by Rodney Thomas; after graduating, Rodney did an internship at STA to help ensure the criteria for adding STA as a production region were met and to document the installation. The server is now managed by STA and hosted on Amazon Web Services. Welcome Spokane!

tl;dr:

What – Until further notice, we need to turn off trip planning in OneBusAway on Android.

Why – Google is charging our non-profit ~$1,000 every month to provide this feature to you and rejected our request for credits because OneBusAway “recreates Google Products or Services.” The OneBusAway app is free to download, volunteer-supported, and doesn’t show you ads or sell your data – as a result, we can’t afford this cost. We’ve tried appealing to Google in as many ways as we can, but have run out of options.

What’s next – We are working on finding an alternative to Google’s Places API geocoding service, which converts street addresses into machine-readable latitude/longitude coordinates.

Please read on if you’re interested in more details.

It has been exciting to see OneBusAway grow from a small graduate student effort at the University of Washington to a fully-fledged open-source project that has served over a million users around the world. The OneBusAway Open-Source Project, which provides real-time transit information to several cities, including Seattle, Tampa, San Diego, and Washington, D.C., with around 300,000 active users of the native Android and iOS apps, split approximately evenly between the two platforms. OneBusAway has blossomed in a valuable tool for transit riders and researchers trying to better understand the impact of technology on transportation.

In 2019, the OneBusAway community took an important step to create a permanent home for the project – the creation of the non-profit Open Transit Software Foundation (OTSF). This organization consists of members from transit agencies, research universities, companies, non-profits, and individuals who all have the common goal of making transit easier to use. While the creation of an official non-profit is an exciting step for the project, unfortunately 2019 brings some bad news too – we’re going to need to say goodbye to a feature, at least temporarily. Let’s rewind to explain.

In early 2016, contributors to the OneBusAway Android app added the trip planning feature. In the design process, the team was careful to select components to minimize ongoing costs, as no budget for operating expenses was available. To translate points-of-interest names (e.g. “Airport”) and addresses (e.g., “1234 Anywhere Dr.”), the team selected the Google Places SDK, which was free to use for Android apps. In 2017, the Google Summer of Code program sponsored the addition of bike-share to OneBusAway, making OneBusAway one of the first native apps to offer true multimodal trip planning.

In 2019, Google decided to start charging for use of the Places SDK on Android – a cost of around $35 per day (around $1000 per month). We pleaded our case to Google and were directed to apply to the Google for Nonprofits program (https://www.google.com/nonprofits). Several transit agencies funded the incorporation of the Open Transit Software Foundation 501(c)(3) in the state of Washington and submitted the non-profit application to Google. In the meantime, Google’s new pricing went into effect on July 29, 2019. We shut down the trip planner during this time while waiting for approval to avoid racking up additional charges that we couldn’t afford.

On September 19, Google admitted OTSF to Google for Nonprofits and approved our request for credits for the Places SDK. At this point we turned the trip planner back on, thinking the problem was solved.

But the credits never showed up in our account. When we asked Google about this, they asked that we submit another request for the credits. We did, and got back a response on October 11th denying our request, saying:

This request is rejected because this app violates our terms of service (https://cloud.google.com/maps-platform/terms/).

…pointing to:

3.2.4 Restrictions Against Misusing the Services (d) No Re-Creating Google Products or Features. Customer will not use the Services to create a product or service with features that are substantially similar to or that re-create the features of another Google product or service. Customer’s product or service must contain substantial, independent value and features beyond the Google products or services.

Given that OneBusAway featured real-time transit information and multimodal trip planning long before Google Maps, we are extremely disappointed in Google’s decision. Furthermore, OneBusAway is a laboratory for experimental new features and research studies showing how riders benefit from real-time information, which Google and other apps often use to convince transit agencies to share their real-time data publicly. OneBusAway was never designed to be a competitor to Google Maps or other 3rd party applications – it was created to advance the state-of-the-art in the public transportation industry.

As a result of Google’s decision, we are unfortunately shutting down the trip planning feature in OneBusAway Android until we can evaluate affordable geocoding options. We are just as disappointed as you in this development – in the last 30 days, approximately 7,300 users have planned over 2.3 million trips using OneBusAway.

If you’d like to express your support for OneBusAway to Google, please feel free to reach out to Google Maps on Twitter.

Sincerely,
Kari Watkins
Chair, Open Transit Software Foundation

Our application to the Internal Revenue Service to recognize the Open Transit Software Foundation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit has been approved! Contributions to OTSF are now tax-deductible; this will also help us in applying for various programs for nonprofit organizations. The OTSF website is set up as well.

We have now formed an official nonprofit organization, the Open Transit Software Foundation, as a home for the OneBusAway project! More details and an OTSF website will be coming soon. The organization’s name and charter are intentionally broader than just OneBusAway so that it can serve as a home for other open-source transit software systems as well.

After ten years of existence, OneBusAway keeps on growing. At the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington DC earlier this month, OneBusAway joined forces with OpenTripPlanner to host its annual meeting. The open-source community got together to share the year’s accomplishments and discuss next steps.

This year, open-source developers have added new features into the app. Sean Barbeau from USF worked with Microsoft Research to add Embedded Social, a new social platform allowing users to make comments. Links to regional fare payment apps were added for Tampa, Puget Sound, and Sand Diego. HART worked with Cambridge Systematics to deploy a new service alerts platform developed in coordination with WMATA. Sean Crudden developed a new prediction method (part of TheTransitClock) based on machine learning to better forecast vehicle arrivals in unstable conditions such as passenger crowding, inclement weather, and congestion.

The mobile app is being deployed all over the world. New instances were implemented in Sroda Wielkopolska, Poland, Jackson County, Oregon, and more. San Diego MTS now runs OneBusAway on its website and as its native app. HART in Tampa, FL, integrated its streetcar service into the app.

Ten years after getting started by two Ph.D. students at University of Washington, OneBusAway is still powered by the open-source community. It thrives thanks to the academics, transit agencies, and developers who keep contributing.

Slides from the meeting are available online:

If you would like to get involved, don’t hesitate to reach out at info@onebusaway.org

Simon J. Berrebi

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