With the evolution of Calgary’s open data, comes the evolution of a navigation tool for the city’s Plus 15 network.
When Bryan Maniotakis of Toy Rockets (formerly Medium Rare) and his group first launched the Next Stop app in 2009 it used basic Calgary Transit timetables to give people schedule of stop times.
“Back then, the data from the city, they’d supply data to developers like us to build this kind of stuff, that wasn’t available back then,” said Maniotakis.
“So, we basically scraped and took all the data from the Calgary Transit website and just decided to make our own app.”
It kick started a movement toward more open data, Maniotakis said. He believes it when they realized that it was better to make the data available and have developers use it for greater good.
Shortly after, the city’s Plus 15 network data was made available.
So, why not flip it into a working map that would help people navigate the core’s indoor web of covered pathways? That’s when the Toy Rockets’ Plus 15 app was launched.
In nearly 10 years, its helped more than 400,000 people wind their way through the overground network.
Maniotakis said back in 2012, the city would post mapping data in a single file. He said they’d have to check back regularly to make sure the file was updated, and therefore their information.
“Eventually, they allowed people like us to pull that data directly from them without having to manually check it; that essentially makes the data always up to date,” Maniotakis.
“That was super handy for us, that direct access to their data was one of the major components to kind of thinking about how we can improve everything.”
Plus 15 app updates
Today, if you look at most Plus 15 navigation apps, it looks like the corridors are open all the time. Particularly during COVID-19, this isn’t the case.
The company’s recent major iOs app update was an opportunity to finesse the data that was now available, Maniotakis said. Over the past decade, they haven’t revamped it other than changing the map data.
They’ve now added colour coding so users can see which Plus 15s are open, closed and which ones have variable hours of operation. He said that was one of the biggest beefs with any Plus 15 navigator – it would show the network, but people would be disappointed when they arrived to find they couldn’t access it.
“It’s just frustrating so we’re trying to help people with those problems,” Maniotakis said.
They’ve also added a dark mode, which is common for most apps today. The new version also gives you the option of using a satellite mode instead of the map view.
Maniotakis is hoping that the next version is packed with even more user interface.
They’re hoping to add in accessibility updates and location markers that show off some of the points of interest in Calgary’s Plus 15 system.
He said it could be a real win for Calgary. After all, the Plus 15 system is something unique to Calgary. It’s the largest overground network in North America and it has amazing opportunities.
“By introducing cooler aspects or more interesting aspects of the plus team you can kind of give the city a little more to offer in terms of tourism, which would be nice,” he said.
Small improvements like this could be the glue that helps with the city’s recently-approved downtown strategy. He said it sounds like the city is working on a better wayfinding program in the downtown, but it’s something their system will complement.
“I think we can elevate that with something like a custom routing system where I can say, ‘I’m here I need to get here. Show me the best way to do it,’ which would be great, especially in the winter here,” Maniotakis said.
The app update is now available for iOS platform phones.