Streetcar Comes to Transit Board(tm)

We’re delighted to announce that Transit Board™ Real Time Info now includes information from Portland Streetcar. We recently received permission to use data from NextBus, Streetcar’s provider for next arrival information. We’re busily integrating this data into our tools, and it should show up on Transit Surfer soon as well.

Remember, we’re happy to build a Transit Board for your location, just click Contact Us at the bottom of this page.

Here’s an example of a Transit Board combining Streetcar and TriMet data for one of my favorite locations:


9 responses to “Streetcar Comes to Transit Board(tm)”

  1. Why did the streetcar system use a different provider from Tri-Met?

    Why are the message boards in the streetcar stops either reporting times like 19:96 or just saying “…updating” the majority of the time?

    Just curious. I use all of the tracking stop IDs and all to call in a lot, but with the streetcars and the realtime Java map from NextBus I usually just ignore that and go look at the printed schedule. So far it’s been a 60/40 chance that the posted schedule is right and the NextBus is wrong.

    I suspect that it is because I usually board at 3rd and Harrison and the turn around maybe messes up the tracking?

  2. Adron, TriMet and Streetcar took very different approaches. TriMet has built their own system in house and pretty much built it from scratch. And I think they’ve done a brilliant job, which is why I’m working so hard to exploit their data hear on Portland Transport.

    Streetcar on the other hand is a much smaller operation and needed to get something up fast. We determined that the displays would have a lot more importance for a ‘circulator’ that was designed for convenience than for a commuter system. So rather than wait for TriMet to build out their system, Streetcar bought off-the-shelf. It was the right choice at the time, but now that TriMet’s system is mature, it’s probably not a bad time to review options.

    As to the issues you mention, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a display like ’19:96′, but here are two known issues with the system:

    1) Vehicles ‘fall off’ the system occassionally (for example if they stop for a period in a place where the satellite connection is poor). In that case the methodology of showing the next two or three vehicles will skip over the missing vehicle and might show you a vehicle more than an hour away. I think this has been largely addressed by staff training to notice and remedy the vehicles that stop tracking.

    2) The ‘Updating’ problem. The display units actually use cellular technology to communicate with the server. Our provider was AT&T and when they were absorbed into Cingular, we had to replace all the radios with Cingular units. A handful have never worked reliably, and when the connection is lost the display locks into ‘Updating’ mode. We are continuing to work with the vendor on this, and I think we have cut the number of signs that fall into this problem in half, but some still persisit. I ask about it at every Portland Streetcar Board Meeting to keep the heat on.

    My own experience is that the arrival predictions are pretty accurate, but I don’t use the RiverPlace extension much. I’ll ask is there are any known issues in that area.

  3. Did you ever consider using track detectors instead (that would send a signal when the streetcar ran over that section of track)? I think that’s what they use on MAX. The only problem is that it might require extra conduit(s) to be installed when the track is constructed. Shelter displays could also have been wired this way (= no wireless charges).

  4. Jason, the GPS-based stuff is pretty cheap (one transponder in each car). I would think track sensors might be a couple of orders of magnitude more expensive, and probably more complex.

    There are sensors on Streetcar (as I expect there are on MAX) for switching interlocks, but I don’t know that this would provide enough info for predicting arrivals (a track sense would not know WHICH vehicle was on the track).

  5. I also know that TriMet now runs fibre as part of their light rail construction, which helps avoid using wireless for the displays. I hope that the unwire Portland initiative will provide lower costs for the wireless displays.

  6. Yea, all the stops at PSU don’t work… for about the past month or two, I haven’t seen them functioning correctly. Often times they misreport the current time (20 minutes off, etc), and say ‘Updateing’ for the arrival time.

    Didn’t use to be that way… last year, they were up 99% of the time and were very reliable!

    In NW & the Pearl they work just like they used to.

  7. I think it is because of the unfinished line, and the way the calculations are made with the NExtbus system that the times get messed up on this end of town. It really makes logical sense. Because when a car sits down there waiting for it’s “scheduled” time of departure the machines sometimes get confused and then start reporting 2 minutes, then immediately 4 minutes… and somewhere in there is the real time it’s gonna take.

    Thanks btw for all those answers and thoughts Chris… excellent follow up on that.

    I do believe that the system should be looked at again and maybe something worked out with Trimet? I know they probably have their hands full dealing with the mall plan and 205 but one never knows.

    btw… when IS the next streetcar meeting? I’d really like to start attending as I’d like to know how and when some of the decisions pop up, hell if someone listens I could provide some good advice and maybe some interesting business participation if someone where to permit such a thought.

    …speaking of that… with all the things going on these days, is a private developer even aloud to actually build a public transport system such as a streetcar or some similar system in Portland these days? I’ve recently been approached by some people who would be willing to plunk down somewhere to the tune of 10 million, but they don’t want to sink it and lose it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *