Hey! Where’s My Ride?


OneBusAway was born of our frustration.
Brian Ferris
A Gillig Phantom trolley on route 4 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_County_Metro)

A Gillig Phantom trolley on route 4 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_County_Metro)

Anyone who rode public transportation in Seattle before 2008 remembers standing in the rain, wondering when the bus would come.

Two of those people were UW graduate students. Brian Ferris was in the UW Computer Science and Engineering program. Kari Watkins was in Civil and Environmental Engineering. The two merged their Ph.D. research projects to build a real-time tracking system for King County Metro bus riders, OneBusAway.

King County Metro already had real-time vehicle tracking technology for internal use, developed by UW Professor Dan Dailey. OneBusAway built a user-friendly interface on top of the real-time data so that a bus rider could access that information.

Things started small. Users had to call in by phone. Ferris hosted the entire program on a computer hidden under his desk. But the timing was perfect. More and more people started carrying smartphones in their pockets-ideal platforms for a mobile app that could tell them when the next bus was on its way. OneBusAway quickly became an essential tool for every transit-riding Seattleite.

Screenshot of the OneBusAway app.

Screenshot of the OneBusAway app.

Screenshot of the OneBusAway app.

Screenshot of the OneBusAway app.

The two inventors graduated in 2011, but OneBusAway lives on. Sound Transit now maintains the app, which is constantly improved by user feedback. And it’s open Application Programming Interface (API) has allowed other developers to build other unique transit applications. Now, every day, more than 100,000 bus riders in cities across the nation get real-time transit information from OneBusAway.

Standing at the bus stop will never be the same again.

Header image: Kari Watkins and Brian Ferris, innovators of OneBusAway, wait at the bus stop in front of the UW HUB. (Brian Ferris)

Quote background: University Street Station (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_Street_station)

Further Reading

“Research Pays Off! Impacts and Implications of Real Time Transit Information” (Microsoft Word)
A post-graduate article by Dr. Kari Watkins on the revolution in public transit that real-time information made possible.
TR News Article for Bus Transit Edition

Kari Watkins Reflects on One Bus Away (Microsoft Word)
Kari Watkins responded to the core questions of the Innovation Initiative, 2016
Kari Watkins

Additional Resources