June 19, 2008 By David Raths
I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. This morning as I planned a business trip to New York for next week, I went online to New York City Transit's Trip Planner to figure out how I would make my way from Penn Station to the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers at 7th Avenue and West 53rd Street.
Entering my starting point and destination quickly brought up several public transportation options along with walking directions from the closest subway stops.
New features recently added to the Trip Planner make the experience much more immersive for users and reduce the likelihood that visitors will end up calling Metropolitan Transit Authority's NYC Transit agency seeking help. The updated Trip Planner includes aerial and three-dimensional views of the city. Users can get now get walking directions and print walking maps from the closest subway stop to their destination. By using Microsoft Virtual Earth and map data from Navteq, NYC Transit says it is able to provide a more realistic view of the street grid than it previously could, making it easier for users to visualize the walking instructions.
More Detailed Maps
Like other public transit and departments of transportation around the country, NYC Transit is taking advantage of its own databases and enhanced mapping capability to empower citizens to take better advantage of transportation systems.
NYC Transit began offering the online Trip Planner in late 2006, when the agency switched the database software used by call takers in its own travel information center to a product called Transit Information System (ATIS), from Trapeze Software Inc. Agency staff wrote Trip Planner as an interface to the ATIS database and made the interface available online to the public.
"We needed a product that was scalable and Windows-based. At the same time, we realized we needed a good online tool," Fleuranges said. "We provide information to a huge number of users, so it was important to get in the game with trip planning."
A team from NYC Transit's staff of 16 Internet developers wrote Trip Planner as an interface to the ATIS database in 2006, said Sohaib Mallick, senior director of Internet technologies at NYC Transit. The same team worked on the Virtual Earth mapping upgrade and a feature that allows users to use Trip Planner from mobile devices.
Enhancements to Trip Planner using Microsoft's Virtual Earth platform allow for accurate 3D city modeling, Mallick said, and the map data from Navteq, a digital map provider, is much more detailed than the data previously provided by Trapeze. The new version makes zooming in and out easier as well. NYC Transit's Internet Technologies Group programmed the application to allow users to overlay the subway routes and stations on the street grid. The project to add Virtual Earth and Navteq features took the Internet team only a few weeks in January before going live in February 2008, Mallick said. Although he declined to provide detailed cost figures, Mallick did say the expense was minimal because the agency is on a transactional licensing model.
Fred Benjamin, assistant vice president for customer service, said the Trip Planner pays dividends to the agency. "Since December 2006 we have seen a 193 percent increase in unique visitors to our Web site," he said. "We had 1.3 million visitors in 2007 and 185,000 in January, so the number of customers we're serving keeps growing."
Additionally, people getting directions through self service instead of calling for help translates into cost savings, and Benjamin said his agency has started work to quantify them. For instance, the abandonment rate on calls-people who get tired of waiting on hold-has dropped dramatically. "This is allowing our call center to handle calls from substantially more people, and we can redeploy some staffers who previously answered phones."