How Swiftly and Transit Put Bus Detours on the Map

Let’s Be Honest: Detours Can Be a Nightmare

Parades. Marathons. Protests. Roadwork. Water main breaks. Four-alarm fires. Sometimes detours are planned. Sometimes they pop up haphazardly. Either way, transit agencies are often forced to scramble together an alternate route.

Riders waiting at the stop are lucky to get a temporary sign taped to the bus shelter. What about the app? They might notice a service alert announcing the detour—but it’s usually just an inscrutable block of text.

Service alerts on three phone screens
The innovative new feature launches today with three partner agencies in Baltimore, Vermont, and Southern California, with more transit systems to come

Even those who are already on a detoured bus suddenly find themselves off track, with little or no information about when the bus will get back to its regular route.

Transit agencies know that their customers deserve better. Riders need accurate, easy-to-understand information. And agency staff need a simple way to get it to them.

Finally, there’s a way: we’ve figured out how to put detours on the map.

For years, Transit and Swiftly have led the industry by helping partner transit agencies provide accurate real-time service information to riders. Today, we’re unveiling a new, easy way to communicate detours.

Transit agencies can now add detours into their real-time feed with Swiftly, and those detours will appear for riders on the map in Transit. Plus: real-time countdowns are adjusted to account for the detour, and relocated stops and routes are automatically taken into account for riders using Transit’s trip planner.

This easy-to-launch integration is now available for transit agencies that partner with both Transit and Swiftly.

A phone and a laptop show maps with a bus journey highlighted
This launch comes after Transit’s launch of detour auto-detection, a pathbreaking feature for transit agencies first launched with the STM in Montreal

This partnership includes a number of important “firsts” for public transit. Swiftly is the first and only real-time data producer to share detailed detour information in ways that trip planners can display to riders. Meanwhile, Transit is the first and only rider app to display detour information to passengers.

Transit is also the first and only platform to offer automated detection detours to transit agencies, a feature it first launched in February with the STM in Montreal.

With today’s announcement, MDOT MTA in Maryland becomes the largest system in the United States to provide mobile maps of detoured bus routes for its customers, as detour information communicated by Swiftly is now seamlessly displayed to riders when they open Transit on their phones.

MDOT MTA is joined by Green Mountain Transit in Vermont and Torrance Transit in California. These two agencies have provided their passengers free access to Royale, Transit’s subscription service, and also use Swiftly’s Service Adjustments to enter detour updates.

These three systems are just the start. Transit and Swiftly will roll out passenger-facing detour support for additional systems in the coming weeks. Partner transit systems across the US are already using Swiftly’s tool to enter more than 3,500 detours each month, and agencies that have signed up for Transit’s automated detection are catching all detours as they happen—even if they weren’t entered manually.

Hear From Partner Agencies


“We’re excited that we’re now able to provide truly dynamic communications with our riders. Our first big step towards this goal was in 2018 when we started to provide real-time predictions to riders with Swiftly in the Transit app. The obvious next step was to tell riders when something wasn’t going according to plan, but getting there has been a challenge—we’ve struggled to give riders complete information when they need it most, particularly during detours. Now, our riders can see the shape of detours in Transit, powered by Swiftly Service Adjustments. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with this advancement we can finally work towards clear, dynamic communications that provide better information for our riders during uncertain times.”

—Michael Helta, Chief Customer Experience Officer, MDOT MTA

Green Mountain Transit

“Whether it’s construction season or five months of winter, Green Mountain Transit values the ability to get passenger information out quickly. The ability to display visual detours in the Transit app thanks to this exciting partnership with Swiftly, paired with our other communication strategies, will allow for clearer and more accessible communication to our passengers.”

—Christopher Damiani, Senior Transit Planner, Green Mountain Transit

Torrance Transit

“Torrance Transit is thrilled to be among the first transit agencies in the country to give riders full visibility into detours. We know how important it is to give riders complete information, especially when the unexpected happens, like detours. That’s why we’ve partnered with Transit, our rider app, and Swiftly, our real-time information provider, to get the best information into the hands of our passengers.”

—David Mach, Transit Planning Manager, Torrance Transit

Innovation That Pushes the Industry Forward

It’s not always simple to get real-time trip information to riders. Swiftly has been producing detour shape information for years, but not in a way that rider apps were able to use.

Earlier this year, Transit proposed an addition to the GTFS-realtime specification called Trip-Modifications, and used it to share auto-detected detour information with the STM. Knowing how useful this new data format could be for transit riders and agencies, Swiftly and Transit then collaborated on building out support for Trip-Modifications, leading an innovation that opens up real-time passenger information for the entire industry.

Thanks to the GTFS-rt Trip-Modifications extension, detour information is shared through a standardized feed, so agencies can use this data however they see fit on their passenger information platforms. The STM, for example, is already using a Trip-Modifications feed from Transit to update its website with detours in real time.

This article was originally published by Swiftly.

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