Metro, Google Transit reach data-sharing deal

Metro and Google have finalized a deal to integrate the transit system’s routes and schedule information with Google’s mapping service, providing the missing link in regionwide public transportation directions.

The partnership between Google Transit and Metro involved no exchange of money but gives Google access to the transit system’s data for bus and subway systems, officials said. Google had already partnered with many transit agencies to provide directions, but Metro was slower than others to come on board.

“The good thing about working with Google is they cover the world,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said at an event after meetings of several Metro board committees.

Noam Ben Haim, product manager of Google’s maps and directions, said the deal “has been a while in the making.” Organizing Metro’s data “in a way that works for users is not easy,” he said. Metro’s transit network features five subway lines, 86 rail stations and thousands of bus stops.

“Each and every one of them was complicated in some way,” Haim said of setting up Google Transit in other major cities.

Catherine Hudgins, chairman of Metro’s board, said the deal has taken “longer than we wanted” but noted that “a problem about what could not be done became an opportunity to build a relationship with Google for something really good for our customers.”

Google Transit is available in more than 400 cities worldwide. The information for the Washington area includes schedules and routes for rail lines and bus systems, including Montgomery County’s Ride On, D.C. Circulator and Loudoun County Transit. There are details of business listings, customer reviews and street-level views. The service is also available on mobile phones.

Sarles said the partnership gives customers an easier way to access regional information on public transportation.

“We now have a seamless network that can take riders from bus, to rail, to MARC, to Amtrak, and you won’t have to go from site to site,” Sarles said.

In the “next several weeks,” Google said it will add icons and schedule information for buses and trains on the Google Transit site for the Washington area. Fare information for the Metro system will have to wait. But it won’t add fare costs in the “near future” because Metro’s system is “different than what we’re capable of handling,” said Haim. “It’s a bit more complicated than most,” Haim said.

Metro implemented a set of fare increases last year that included different rates for the rail system’s busiest times and surcharges for using paper farecards.

Before the Google announcement, during a finance and administration committee meeting, some board members expressed concerns about Metro employees’ overtime and the impact of fatigue on safety.

Metro’s finance officials reported that the transit authority is $4.4 million over budget on overtime as of March because of a shortage of workers to fix bus and rail equipment according to an ambitious repair plan. Metro said it is working to fill vacancies for inspectors, supervisors and other skilled positions, an effort that eventually will reduce overtime.

Sarles said Metro is trying to meet recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“NTSB was not happy with us,” Sarles told the board. “They’re now satisfied we’re moving at a timely pace to meet safety requirements.

“We’re trying to figure out how many more people we need, and at the same time we’re using existing resources and overtime. . . . We’re digging ourselves out of a hole,” he said.

Metro has been pursuing an intensive schedule of repairs, closing portions of subway lines during holiday weekends. The next shutdown will occur on a segment of the Orange and Blue lines over Memorial Day weekend.

“The system was not maintained the way it should be, and now we’re paying for it in catch-up mode,” Sarles said.

Dana Hedgpeth is a Post reporter, working the early morning, reporting on traffic, crime and other local issues.
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