Mike McCarthy got tired of seeing his wife “freeze her butt off” in the cold while waiting for the consistently late SEPTA train. So instead of buying her a scarf, he built her — and the rest of the city who rely on SEPTA — a website.
The brainy Roxborough resident became so fed up with SEPTA’s “useless” transit schedules that he developed a website to track how late or on-time some of its bus, train and trolley routes are in real time.
McCarthy, 33, launched Skookul.com last month — a play on the common local word “Schuylkill,” which shows exactly how late a SEPTA bus or train will arrive, “depending on how frequently SEPTA publishes its data,” McCarthy said.
“A transponder continuously transmits the latitude and longitude of each of its 1,400 buses,” he explained, which SEPTA allows third party web developers, like McCarthy to collect and use as data. “I guess the attraction for me is to see if I can do it, to solve the problem.”
McCarthy said SEPTA began releasing the information on its transit routes in January. It took him about 16 hours to build a model site and another week to enter the information about its bus, train and trolley routes and make it more user friendly.
“SEPTA, to their credit, have been awfully supportive,” he said. “They want to encourage people to visit the city, spend their money there. So they keep releasing this information, hoping people like me will use it.”
But the site is more than just SEPTA updates. The service offers information on live music performances and dozens of different neighborhoods throughout the city.
“I’m just kinda grabbing free available data and representing it to the local Philadelphia audience to make it more presentable,” he said, adding that he uses a data feed from Last FM for the music section.
Another part of the site uses a geo-locator along with PhillyHistory.org that allows people to click a certain location on a city map and call up a photograph of that spot taken within the last hundred years.
“You can see how the city is always changing,” he said. The best part about it, he said, is that institutions like SEPTA are providing so much free data that “I’m trying to catch up to them.”