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Why Is It So Hard to Figure Out When the Bus Is Coming?

It takes a volunteer army of student mapmakers to build a better transit tracker.
University of Maryland students Kurt Willson (L) and Shannon Corrigan (R) work to map a bus route in Loudon County, Virginia.
University of Maryland students Kurt Willson (L) and Shannon Corrigan (R) work to map a bus route in Loudon County, Virginia. Laura Bliss/CityLab

On a a glorious 75-degree afternoon in early May, students at the University of Maryland, College Park sprawled in tank-tops and bathing suits on the quad, hatching post-finals plans. But not all students: In a windowless computer lab in the geography building, a handful of industrious undergrads were glued to banks of monitors, mapping buses.

Stop by stop, pick up by drop off, they traced the trajectories and timetables of a Loudon County, Virginia commuter bus service into the backend of Moovit, a partially crowdsourced transit navigation app. Or at least they were trying to. “I was in the wrong Virginia!” shouted Kurt Willson, a freshman GIS major, as he clicked through OpenStreetMap for the location of a stop on the online platform.