Building a Commute Planner for Arlington County

By Trevor Gerhardt 15 Apr 2014

cross posted from Mobility Lab

Does the world need another commute planning app? It may surprise you to know that we think the answer is a resounding “yes.” The Arlington Transit Tech Initiative is creating commute-planning software to provide personalized information for travelers making trips throughout the Washington D.C. region. We’re developing this as Modeify, an open-source project with the code available on GitHub.


The commute planner:

  • will assist commuters in understanding their best available options
  • is intended to replace current analog outreach methods (for example, static metro and bus maps), and
  • will establish a feedback loop to help Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) recognize the needs and desires of its customers – the people traveling in and around Arlington.

Our as-yet-unnamed tool will differ from on-demand apps currently on the market in one significant way. The current crop of apps specialize in displaying trip information between points A and B over a specific route, using a specific mode of transportation, at a specific time. Our commute planner uses OpenTripPlanner to calculate trip information between points A and B over different routes, taking into account different travel times, over different transportation modes (including walking and biking trip times as well as public-transit wait and transfer times) to determine which option is best on a daily basis, not just right now.


One of the biggest challenges of the project will be helping commuters to intuitively understand available travel options. Our initial commute-planning output, shown above, is intuitive, robust, and dynamically generated. We will be performing ongoing testing of the user interface and solicitation of feedback from a diverse set of commuters, which we understand will be imperative to the success of the project.

To deliver a succinct overview of options, we have been developing an open-source JavaScript library called Transitive.js to dynamically generate and display schematic maps that contain only relevant information about a journey. Along with the map, we will display detailed steps required to make the journeys shown and a comparison of the alternative options. (Detailed technical information about Transitive.js will be available here soon.)


We are also exploring methods of communicating with residents to proactively share personalized travel information. Currently, when new residents and companies move to Arlington, ACCS mails information packets about commutes, generated by hand. As part of this project, we’ll make this information accessible directly from the commute planner to anyone who lives or works in Arlington by simply entering their home and work addresses. We are also building interfaces to let companies provide outreach directly to their employees and collect aggregate information about staff travel needs.

Our work doesn’t end after the commute results are displayed. Commuter feedback will be collected about how our tool affected commuting choices, to teach lessons regarding how best to influence more sustainable and healthy travel choices. In the future, we will integrate with apps to allow commuters to track their commutes, which will in turn help improve this information.

It’s exciting to help ACCS make it easier for Arlingtonians to choose transit, biking, and walking over single-passenger vehicles. And we commend Arlington County for demanding that its travelers have access to quality, clear, and up-to-date travel plans.