Bus Ticker app offers better, faster HSR stop information

Gavin Schulz, the creator of Bus Ticker, is a fourth-year economics and computer science student at McMaster.

When Gavin Schulz created Bus Ticker, he was doing it for himself as much as anyone else.

“I found it useful,” said the fourth-year economics and computer science student at McMaster. “I figured other people would find it useful as well.”

The Bus Ticker app, which can run on iOS, Android and BlackBerry, provides a listing of HSR bus arrival times for a given stop. A user can enter a stop number, or allow the app to locate the nearest stops itself, and see when the next five buses are coming for each bus route.

“The other options, like the phone-in service from the HSR or Google Maps, just took a long time and were more complicated than they needed to be. I decided to build something that would make it really easy to find out when the next bus is coming,” said Schulz.

Not only does the call-in service take a longer time to give you less information, he said, but it also requires that you know your four-digit stop code. Google Maps provides similar data, but presents it in the form of a complete trip. Bus Ticker, he explained, has a much higher information density than the other options.

HSR makes bus information available online for a couple of months at a time, said Schulz. He updates Bus Ticker by downloading the information and re-purposing it for the app.

After starting work on the app in early October, Schulz presented and launched it at Software Hamilton’s DemoCamp on Nov. 20. Bus Ticker – originally called the “Next Bus” app before a trademark conflict surfaced – was one of six demos at the event, which is run annually by Kevin Browne, a PhD candidate in McMaster’s computing and software department.

The app is currently free for download from bustickerapp.com.

“The way I look at it, I could charge for it and make a little bit of money – realistically, maybe a couple hundred dollars, and I’d have a couple hundred people using it – or I could make it free … and I could have a lot of people using it and getting value from it,” said Schulz.

Earlier this month, Schulz emailed an open letter to Hamilton’s city council, pushing them to mandate real-time updates from the HSR. He has been working with Open Hamilton, a citizens’ group that believes City data and information should be freely available, on that pursuit.

Whether or not Bus Ticker offers updates in the event that a bus is delayed or re-routed was something that came up a number of times as DemoCamp, he said, but that information is not currently available from the HSR.

“We [at Open Hamilton] have been trying to get the HSR to release real-time data available to developers,” said Schulz. “I think [Bus Ticker] is really effective in terms of showing the City that people are here waiting to build on that data once they’re ready to give it to us.”

Schulz would like to see the project evolve with an SMS service for commuters without smartphones, as well as a browser extension so that Bus Ticker is available from a personal computer.

“I like building things. I like creating things; it’s fun,” he said. “There’s a satisfaction in seeing people use it.”

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