Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

HEA++, an enhanced Honolulu Estimated Arrival (HEA) system

Aloha Techhui, I just finished rebuilding the HEA system from TheBus with some enhancements, and would love feedback! It's certainly an alpha, but it's usable and (at least in my opinion) already offers a handful of improvements over the current HEA system. You can check it out here - If you're interested in learning more, read on!

DISCLAIMER: I do not work for TheBus. This was a personal project of mine. It was done for fun and out of a passion for buses and the transit system in general. Also, certain pages will be slow on first-load because I am fetching data and parsing it from TheBus, but subsequent loads will be faster.

Late in 2009 I discovered the wonderful HEA system created by TheBus to make riding the bus easier. It's a fantastic service which lets you look up a specific stop by intersection or ID, and then see all of the buses coming to that stop, realtime, thanks to GPS onboard every bus.

Being an avid rider I came to use the system quite often, both on my previous iPhone 3G and now on my Android powered phone. In riding frequently, I also came to realize the many shortcomings of the HEA system. Sometimes you know you're near a bus stop, but have no idea what the Stop ID is and can't look it up. Same is true for not knowing an intersection. TheBus is making progress installing new code signs at every stop, but the majority are unlabeled. Another problem I face time and time again is searching for an intersection, finding two stops with the same name (across from the street from each other) and not knowing which one goes which direction. I truly commend the guys at TheBus for their hard work in creating HEA, it's a priceless service, however it's clearly lacking in certain areas.

So, being a TheBus rider and web geek, I decided to take it upon myself to address some of the shortcomings of the system and built my own. You're looking at my first public non-embarrassing version of HEA++, which does a few things that the standard HEA does not.

  • Find stops near you with GPS — My girlfriend and I walk around with these magnificent devices all day long, which have a wonderful feature known as GPS. On modern devices (Android and iPhone tested so far) I get your GPS coordinates and pass those on to my server, where I deliver a list of stops close to you. It's pretty robust right now, and ideally with a little more testing and perfection you'll never ever need to type in a stop ID or intersection again! Tap the "Stops Near Me" button in the top right of any page, and you'll see what I mean!

  • The route and direction of a stop is listed in search results — One of the biggest issues with HEA is knowing your intersection, and finding 2 stops. Sure it's simple to check one, backtrack, and look at the other, but it's also easier to know that I am heading west, and view the westbound stop. HEA++ does a good job with this, showing you both the direction of the stop as well as all of the routes that service it.

  • Find stops near other stops — If you're viewing a stop you can quickly jump to a list of stops nearby with one touch, and quickly decide which route you want to take home!

I have a TON of functionality planned for the very near future. Unfortunately I need to pay my bills, so certain things will take priority over this. However, I certainly appreciate any comments, feedback, requests, or other inquiries. Feel free to email me here if you'd like!

For those curious, this site was built using Django on top of a PostgreSQL db with a small handful of external libraries. It's hosted on a Linode server (this is a referral link!). If you'd like to learn more about me personally, head over to my personal site, whalesalad.

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Comment by J. David Beutel on February 26, 2010 at 10:34am
This is a service I've been wanting for years! I didn't know thebus had done it. Thanks for publicizing. Yours looks better, too. I'm looking forward to the feature of accessing it via SMS or even email, since my phone doesn't have web browsing.
Comment by Paul Graydon on February 22, 2010 at 11:06pm
One other thing I like about the London Transport system: Oyster Cards as a payment system. I believe they do similar in Japan and a few other countries too. Essentially you have a pre-paid card that you can top up at any point. When getting on a bus, or through ticket barriers at the stations you touch your card against the reader and it automatically deducts the relevant fee (trains are touch-in-touch-out as they're zone based fees, buses are just touch in). No faffing about with making sure you've got the correct change on you or whatever. There is also a maximum daily limit after which transport is free. The transport system wins too by having additional money early on from those people who have got a balance on their cards. You can also link your oyster card to a credit card and have it automatically top up once it's balance drops below a certain level. All transport fees paid for on oyster are discounted from cash fees to to encourage use (less for driver to worry about and no security concerns about cash.

Like it is for me where I am in Kailua, public transport is only a few minutes walk away from where I live and goes right near to where I work. No point faffing about with expensive parking on or near Bishop Street when it only costs me $50 pcm, and get guaranteed time each day to read.
Comment by Paul Graydon on February 20, 2010 at 10:52pm
Brian: You ought to try the London public transport system. As much as I didn't particularly like living in London the combination of the underground and the bus system is phenomenal. Lots of buses covering all sorts of routes, and they ran late at night too to cover the post pub / clubbing transport needs. Last time I was there the GPS on buses was a bit sporadic with no website, but that was a good couple of years ago now.
Comment by Michael Whalen on February 16, 2010 at 2:27pm
Really glad to hear you like it Mark! You're right, I should mention that. I copied the source of my about page on the site and pasted it into this blog post, forgetting to do that.

Paul, I'm glad to hear that it works on your phone! I'm very surprised myself, as I didn't really have any audience in mind aside from people that have touchscreen smartphones. I certainly realize that there are others out there (who make up the majority, no doubt), though, so I am glad to hear it works!

Another feature I intend to add fairly soon (funds and time permitting) is to interface with Twilio's new SMS api so that my buddies that don't even have web browsing abilities can text message a stop number to my service, and get back a short list of buses coming soon.
Comment by Mark Quezada on February 16, 2010 at 2:21pm
I too use the bus everyday and I've wanted to do something like this myself for quite some time... glad you beat me to it! The "near me" functionality is priceless.

The site's very quick loading on my iPhone 3G. I'll be putting it through its paces and using it instead of the hea site from now on :)

Thank you!

(P.s., might want to let people know that the linode link is a referral.)
Comment by Paul Graydon on February 16, 2010 at 1:34pm
I've been using for a few weeks now after discovering it works even on my trusty ol' w880i phone. TheBus doesn't seem to have done much effort in promoting the service, unlike say which you hear about almost every journey. It's a shame as it's an extremely useful tool.

Like you I've got cheesed off at times trying to figure out which bus stop is the relevant one. Sadly my phone doesn't do GPS, but still the additional information your site gives makes it handy. Your site also seems to work on my phone which increasingly fewer sites will!
Comment by Michael Whalen on February 16, 2010 at 1:31pm
Thanks for the comment Russell ;) It's definitely a service I use every single day, multiple times. I'm excited to start putting this to the test of myself and every other geek on the island ;)
Comment by Russell Castagnaro on February 16, 2010 at 10:25am
Nice! I didn't know the service existed, and you definitely improved it.


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