Toronto TTC prediction apps

Changes to NextBus break apps, signal bus info coming

If you use a TTC streetcar prediction app like Rocket Radar, Pocket Rocket or Next TTC — or anything else that relies on NextBus data — you'll probably have noticed that it was acting funny last week. That's because changes to the feed structure upon which these apps rely disabled their functionality for a period before developers could scramble to update their products (which it seems they've all done). This wouldn't be that big a deal if it wasn't for the fact that many of these apps still won't work unless users have taken the time to update them as well.

Without getting into the boring technical specifics, from what I understand, the change that affected these third party apps involved the stopID info, which was updated to correspond with the TTC Next Vehicle SMS notices. The old feed, around which the apps were all structured, will be kept until April 27th, but has been moved to a different URL — hence the need for an update.

Having noticed that the apps I have on my phone were rendered useless, I caught up with Rocket Radar creator, Adam Schwabe, to ask him what was going on. Essentially what he explained was that this was a good news/bad news scenario. On the one hand the communication about the update was poor and left both developers and users with suddenly broken apps, but on the other, some of the features that have been added will prove quite useful. Not only that, they seem to signal that the TTC is indeed on the cusp of adding a GPS-based data feed for its buses.

"The TTC is not 100% to blame with what happened last week," Schwabe wrote me in an email after assuring me that his app was back up and running. "What they've actually added to the feed will be quite useful for users of Rocket Radar: that includes support for short turns, indications as to whether a vehicle is delayed, and in turn they've prepared themselves for the moment when bus data becomes available."

But for all the usefulness of the new data, it's obviously crucial that apps like Rocket Radar don't break like this. "When you're working with a third party data feed, it's important to be prepared to adapt when things change unexpectedly," Schwabe explains. "Rocket Radar was ready for some minor change, but we weren't prepared for the significant changes that came our way, and that's where we dropped the ball. Within the next week or so, we'll be putting out an update to externalize our data and prevent this from happening again."

The communication from the TTC about the changes certainly could have been better — aside from a tweet issued by the @Open_TO account and a (rather last minute) notice on the OpenData page, there wasn't any warning — but Schwabe remains philosophical about the whole experience. "What's important now is what we've learned from the issue, and how we can improve our app and our communication with the TTC going forward."

Now we just need that bus info. Could April 27th be the day?

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