Here’s a message sent today by OC Transpo management to city councillors and members of the Transit Commission about OC Transpo GPS and data feeds. Good to see OC Transpo responding to one of the most frequent concerns we hear about from riders.

OC Transpo has recently received feedback from customers and Councillors regarding issues with the real-time arrival times provided by the OC Transpo iPhone app and other independent apps. Customers have noticed that, at times, some apps were not showing GPS-adjusted arrival times for their routes.

First, some words on how our current system predicts arrivals based on the position of a bus. The system activates when the bus starts a trip. From that point on, the arrival time is predicted from the actual location of the bus plus the scheduled travel time from that point to the stop a customer is asking about. Predictions are possible after the bus has left the first stop. For that reason, if a customer is at one of the first few stops along a route, they will not see GPS-adjusted times until shortly before the bus arrives at their stop.

Our open data server receives more than four million data requests every weekday, or about 1.2 billion per year, and this continues to increase. We are pleased that so many customers are using apps that take advantage of the real-time data that we publish. The volume of data requests is highest during peak periods and especially when transit service is delayed by heavy traffic or snowfall. But the volume of data requests sometimes exceeds the capacity of the network infrastructure we have in place to respond to requests.

When the volume of requests exceeds the capacity to provide the real-time data, this can occasionally cause the OC Transpo app and the in-station transit information screens to show only scheduled times. Independent apps may show only scheduled times, may show error messages, or may require multiple requests to the server to retrieve real-time data, depending on how they were programmed by the independent developer.

Staff have been monitoring the volume of data requests as they continue to increase and have been taking steps to increase the capacity of the server to respond to all requests. We are working internally and with the developers of the independent apps to optimize requests to the server and to make the system more efficient and reliable for customers, regardless of which application they use to get transit information. We are also working over the next few weeks to upgrade our system hardware and software to better accommodate increased server loads. As well, after O-Train Line 1, the Confederation Line, has opened, staff will work on transitioning to a new real-time information system that has been in development for some time and will better manage the millions of daily requests to the server.

Please note that while there have been intermittent issues with providing real-time information to customers, our internal tracking of buses using GPS is not affected. The 560-1000 phone service is also not affected and continues to provide real-time schedule information to customers.

We remain committed to providing customers with the best available transit information possible and appreciate your patience as we work to improve the reliability of one of our most important and popular customer information tools.