November 10, 2003

TransitInfo Degeneration

When I moved to the Bay Area a little over two years ago and needed to find bus schedules, BART stations, and other public transportation information, I was delighted to discover TransitInfo.org. Developed by two UC Berkeley undergraduates, TransitInfo was a model of good data organization and ease of use. I was impressed with how many transportation systems the site covered, how few clicks it took to find the information I was looking for, and how light the whole site was, basic HTML and few graphics, zero bloat.

In November of 2002 the original developers handed over control of the site to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and their contractor. Since then the beauty and simplicity of the original site have been eroded beyond recognition. The new site, 511 Transit, is far less usable and much less efficient in my opinion.

In particular, one of the excellent features of the old site was the ability to quickly get the fare and upcoming schedule information for any two points on the BART system. Two clicks from the home page would deliver you to a map of the BART system with clickable station points. After selecting your departure and arrival stations and choosing whether you wanted the full schedule or just the schedule for the rest of the day, the system would return the schedule, the fare, all the information you needed. Simply. Quickly.

Now, any form of travel has been rolled into one infuriating piece of software, the “511 TakeTransit(SM) Trip Planner.” (Yes, even it’s name is bloated.) You have to either know the exact street addresses you want to travel between or navigate a sluggish map to pinpoint the locations. There doesn’t seem to be anyway to limit the tool to one form of transportation. What if you just want some Muni schedule information?

I’m sure a lot of time and effort has gone into this site’s evolution and this is just my opinion. I don’t mean to offend anyone or insult their hard work. It’s just frustrating that a tool which I used to rely upon has become effectively unusable to me. I hope the designers take a look at the success of the original site and choose to bring some of that simple elegance back to the software.

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