After years of SEPTA asks, Google Maps adds transit lines in Philly

The authority and the search engine giant are finally fully integrated.

Screenshot / Google Maps

At last, Philadelphia transportation rail lines are visible on Google Maps.

Go ahead, try it out for yourself. Head over to Gmaps on your desktop or Android device (the function’s not yet available on iOS) and tap or click to turn on the “Transit” details, and you’ll see a web of interconnected colored lines. Included so far are BSL and MFL subway lines, plus some trolley, PATCO, Regional Rail and light rail routes.

Before this update, you could see transit stops on Google Maps — but the route lines were not highlighted till now.

This new mapping display didn’t come easy. SEPTA has been working on getting it implemented for half a decade, spokesperson Andrew Busch told Billy Penn.

“One of our goals was to show how multiple SEPTA lines pass through the same streets or tracks,” Busch said, “to help riders better understand how they can use our system and the options that are available to them.”

Busch explained to Billy Penn that conversations between Google and the transit authority were complex and long-lasting — and took years of back-and-forth.

SEPTA’s been providing its transit dataset for more than five years now, he said, but at first the mega-search-engine insisted the files weren’t compatible with its system.

The Philly transit agency didn’t give up — its tech staff made continuous adjustments, repeatedly nudging Google to speed up the process. At the end of 2018, SEPTA folks were connected with Google contractor Ito World, and the two parties collaborated to finally integrate the geospatial data and display it on Maps.

“This gives our customers another way to access information about the transit system,” Busch said.

The new map brings Philly up to par with most other cities. New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle — all of them already had their transit lines uploaded.

It’s part of a larger push on SEPTA’s behalf to update its digital presence. In tandem with its February 2019 schedule change, officials released some pretty new maps to better display bus frequency. They’re color-coded to easily show which routes run every 15, 30 and 60 minutes.

And if you’re really in a rush, there’s an extremely readable map that displays just the routes that arrive most frequently (that’s every 15 minutes, pending your usual SEPTA delays).

SEPTA riders, rejoice — we can finally use the Internet Machine to easily see the big picture.

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Maps, Transit, SEPTA