Well, looks like the rumors were true: Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit (MT/GGT) have made it onto Google Maps at last. The news broke on Twitter when fellow blogger Matt Nelson of California Streets let me know:
Google Maps seems to have figured out Golden Gate Transit exists-it now seems to provide transit directions for them. cc:@thegreatermarin
— Matt Nelson (@calstreets) April 28, 2012
While the extremely observant would have picked up the select comments and tweets that have been made about this, for the most part the efforts have gone unnoticed and unadvertised. The chatter was that MT/GGT had wanted to get onto Google Maps last year, but some of the more complicated and infrequent routes, such as school buses that run only on Wednesdays, weren't converting effectively into the system. The trouble pushed back the roll-out until now.
There are a few glaring oddities in this roll-out. As of publish time, neither Marin Transit nor Golden Gate Transit have made a press statement on the subject. You'd think that their communications departments would be incredibly excited to get this out to the public. Perhaps, with the Doyle Drive closure and rerouting through the city this weekend, they'd rather not get people excited to use a system that isn't going to give good information until Monday.
As well, the MT shuttles, either the ones to West Marin or the ones around East Marin, seem to be missing from Google Maps. Only routes operated by GGT are shown. It seems odd that such a large part of our already anemic transit system would be left out, but perhaps this will be rolled out at a future date.
Google Maps uses what's called the General Transit Feed Specification, or GTFS, which is really just a specially formatted spreadsheet of all the routes, stops, and timetables in the system. Google works with transit agencies to get the GTFS working, but generally it's up to the individual agency to complete its own project.
Google Maps does have other bells and whistles for transit. First, it can mark down station locations. I'm not sure why MT/GGT's stops aren't visible considering that the locations are already in the GTFS file. Second, it can mark down the exact routing of lines that serve the stop. If you click on a BART station, you'll see lines pop up of the entire system, and the lines that serve the station will be in bold. Third, it can do real-time arrival information. Not many agencies utilize that because of technical and often proprietary reasons. However, a planner let slip to me that the Hub was slated for a real-time arrival clock in the next year or so, so perhaps real-time data is coming. This bodes all kinds of good.
In any case, this is a huge boon to Marin's transit riders. Tourists will be able to plot their ride from Fisherman's Wharf to Fairfax if they wanted to and know when to get back. Open data like this will also be useful for people looking for a new place to live - Walk Score uses it to plot "distance by transit" so you can plan where you live with transit in mind. This is an unqualified win for Marin, and a step towards a transit system that doesn't suck.