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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 14, 2011 at 12:32 PM

OneBusAway creator hired by Metro, briefly, before Google

Brian Ferris, the creator of the OneBusAway bus arrival application, has a summer job after he finishes his PhD work at the University of Washington.

Ferris will spend a month or two coding for King County, helping it complete and test software for Metro’s new bus radio and GPS system. He’s already been developing the software that transmits bus location information in a standard format used by transit apps and services, and the temporary job will enable him to finish the project and test it within Metro’s firewall.

At the same time, the county and other regional transit agencies have met and begun talking to the UW about ways to continue operating the collection of OneBusAway apps and web services.

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I reported in May that Google hired Ferris to join a team in Zurich that works on transit and direction services and the UW and the county were hoping to find a way to continue his project.

In a blog post today, Ferris reiterated his hiring and disclosed that he’s starting a temporary job at King County next Thursday.

Separately, transit officials are talking to the UW about ways they can keep the OneBusAway apps and services operating after Ferris leaves. They run on servers in the computer science school, where students and faculty have been working on related projects for decades, and are used for research in different departments at the university.

“We’re all interested, we know OneBusAway is a great application, we’d like to see it survive,” said Wayne Watanabe, IT service delivery manager for the transportation department.

Watanabe said his agency has been talking to Ferris for years about sustaining his work after he graduates.

Specifically, Ferris will be working on a SIRI repeater. SIRI stands for service interface for real time information, which is an “XML protocol to allow distributed computers to exchange real-time information about public transport services and vehicles,” according to a description of the standard hosted at

Metro’s SIRI repeater should be complete this summer but the new radios and GPS systems it draws upon aren’t on many buses yet. So far they’re on the “rapid ride” fleet and being steadily added to other buses. They should be used throughout the fleet by the end of 2012, Watanabe said.

King County plans to freely share the location information for developers to build applications. If necessary, it will build a location tool for the public itself, Watanabe said.

“We feel that there are certain basic services that the public should have,” he said. “Having a good real-time application is one of those, just like timetables.”

Comments | Topics: Brian Ferris, Education, education


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