Student Boosts Big Island Bus App
A Big Island teenager has helped the Big Island bus transit system take its online services to the next level. Having put Hele-on Bus schedule information on the web, Tiger Oakes (@Not_Woods) has now released a new version of his “Big Island Buses” web app, and even connected his work with Google Maps.
I first heard about Tiger’s tech prowess in 2012, when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Myron B. Thompson Academy. In addition to his schoolwork, he had built and launched a puzzle game app for Android called BitBall, served on two high-ranking Botball robotics teams, and helped manage IT at his parents construction and management business.
Last year, he decided to apply his programming talents to a civic issue, bringing the Hele-On Bus system into the 21st century. He compiled the bus system’s paper and PDF timetables into a web application. He entered his “Big Island Buses” web app in the “Congressional App Challenge,” and won top honors for Hawaii.
But in the several months since, Tiger hasn’t stopped improving and building upon his award-winning work. He’s poured many more hours into the project, working with the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency to improve the accuracy of the information.
The stand alone “Big Island Buses” web app can be found at GoRide.io. It’s built to work on computers, tablets, and smartphones, and it’s GPS enabled so users can find the bus stops nearest them and which routes connect there. Bus riders can also use the web app to search for information on bus service elsewhere on the island, and it even caches some information locally so that users can retrieve it even without internet service (a situation pretty common on the Big Island).
And thanks to Tiger, Hawaii bus system information will also be available inside Google Maps in the next few weeks. That makes Hele-On Bus information available to users of Google’s immensely popular map tools on the web and inside mobile apps.
He says the project took “thousands of hours and over 100,000 lines of code,” including the decidedly 20th century work of manually converting Hele-On Bus schedules from print documents into machine-readable information.
“The data is sadly still static,” Tiger notes. “I attempted to obtain live GPS locations of the buses, but the county doesn’t have any API I can use for that.”
And he admits that working with government agencies takes more patience than working on his own.
“Working with the county was frustrating,” Tiger says. “At times, I would need to walk away and work on something else, but I was able to bring myself to come back and continue the app.”
His perseverance has paid off, however. In refining an already useful app and making transit information available to a much wider audience, he was able to showcase his talents and lay the groundwork for the next chapter of his life.
“I’ve been able to use the app to help me into the University of British Columbia, where I’ll be pursuing a degree in computer science and continue to work on software in the future,” he says.