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I grew up in Auckland and spent many years using the city's public transport system to get from place to place. While sitting on a bus, I sometimes wondered what the transportation network would look like if we could see the movements of the individual vehicles from the air. I would try to visualise the aggregate trajectories as each vehicle carved a path through space-time. After a few moments I would get hopelessly overwhelmed and go back to reading my book.

Last year Auckland Transport published its

on the MAXX website and I realised it provided the information I needed to make the map I used to daydream about. The data is a series of (large) spreadsheets, each describing a different aspect of the bus, train and ferry network. Last week I downloaded the spreadsheets and wrote some software to transform the data into an animated map.


As usual, I recommend you fullscreen the video and watch it in high definition.

An animated map of Auckland's public transport network from Chris McDowall on Vimeo.

The animation begins at 3am on a typical Monday morning. A pair of blue squiggles depict the Airport buses shuttling late night travellers between the Downtown Ferry Terminal and Auckland International. From 5am, a skeleton service of local buses begins making trips from the outer suburbs to the inner city and the first ferry departs for Waiheke Island. Over the next few hours the volume and frequency of vehicles steadily increases until we reach peak morning rush hour. By 8am the city's major transportation corridors are clearly delineated by a stream of buses filled with commuters. After 9am the volume of vehicles drops a little and stays steady until the schools get out and the evening commute begins. The animation ends at midnight with just a few night buses moving passengers away from the central city.

Some things to note:

* The steady pulse of the Devonport Ferry.

* The speed at which buses hurtle down the Northern Motorway's new bus lanes.

* The interplay between buses and ferries on Waiheke Island.

* The sheer mind-boggling complexity of the system.


Please note that there are a few quirks in the animation. A couple of ferry services pass across the land and there is at least one erroneous harbour crossing. These errors are not problems with the MAXX schedule - they are errors introduced by missing geometries. I will attempt to rectify these issues at a later date.

Chris McDowall is an informatics researcher working at Landcare Research. View his work and that of 35 other scientists and science writers at Sciblogs, New Zealand's largest science blogging network.