OneBusAway, the beloved app that delivers real-time information to public transportation riders, needs help to keep the bus and train data moving on time.
“It is getting harder and harder to exist as a volunteer-only organization and we feel the need to finally hire a dedicated developer who would work for us on the project to keep the apps up-to-date while trying to increase our reach,” Watkins wrote.
OneBusAway was started by then-University of Washington PhD students Watkins and Brian Ferris in 2008. The open-source code project has grown far beyond the Seattle region and is used by transit agencies in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Spokane, Wash., Buenos Aires, Australia, Finland and more.
In the Seattle region, where OBA is supported by public transit agency Sound Transit, more than 100,000 transit riders a day rely on the app from Everett to Tacoma.
Watkins is now an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, specializing in transit planning and behavior. Ferris joined Google in 2011, where he works on transportation and urban-mobility technology for Google Maps.
In a UW Magazine story last month, Ferris called himself “a transit nerd at heart,” and said OneBusAway was “one of the most impactful things” he’d ever worked on.
Ferris and Watkins credit Alan Borning, now professor emeritus in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, as their longtime mentor. Borning helped create the Open Transit Software Foundation.
A donation page on the OTSF website says that ongoing organization expenses include websites, domain names, equipment rental for its annual meeting, and more. The nonprofit adds that additional money would help with new hires and “a long list of enhancements” that they’d love to make to apps and systems.
In her post, Watkins said the “meagerly funded” nonprofit “exists primarily based on the blood, sweat and tears of a few dedicated volunteers on our board.”
One of those volunteers is Aaron Brethorst, the Seattle-based director of user experience at health tech company Health Catalyst, who serves as OTSF board chair.
“Frankly, we need help across the board,” Brethorst told GeekWire. “There’s a need to be able to keep the apps running and also make sure that the feature sets that they offer remain competitive with closed source, highly funded projects like Transit app, for instance.”
Transit has raised more than $25 million to date, according to Crunchbase.
Brethorst said OneBusAway wants to add missing features on the iOS side, such as a trip planner “that people have been clamoring for for years.” On the Android side, Brethorst said that with the help of a volunteer software developer they finally just added dark mode support.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re essentially left hoping that people will grace us with a little bit of their free time to provide features and bug fixes that are critical for several hundred thousand transit riders,” he said.
In her post, Watkins said anyone with funding ideas should reach out to email@example.com.
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