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django-based mbta trip scraper
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You can view this project live here.

MBTA Live is a django-powered web application which displays, for each MBTA route in Boston, the number of currently active MBTA trips and the average trip duration over a typical day. Every 10 seconds, a celery background worker scrapes .json data from the MBTA Developer Portal containing information on all ongoing trips. The time at which new trips (see footnote 1) appear is saved, as well as when they disappear - the difference yields the trip's duration. Each completed trip is saved in a database.

The primary motivation for this project was to visualize when certain routes are busiest throughout a typical day. Additionally, this project was designed around using as many new technologies as possible as a learning experience.

Installation for Ubuntu Linux

While I don't anticipate anyone thoroughly replicating this installation, outlining the general steps could prove useful for those with a similar stack. Ensure your default Python environment uses Python 2, not Python 3. You can check this by running python in your terminal to see which version you are using.

1. Ensure your Ubuntu distribution is up-to-date

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

2. Clone the repository

Within your projects folder that will house the mbta_django repo, enter:

sudo git clone

3. Create a new virtual environment

I would advise against using python3-venv because it will default to Python 3 for package installation. This is problematic when installing supervisor, which requires Python 2. I also advise against Anaconda's virtual environment manager with this specific project. Within the "mbta_django folder", run:

virtualenv venv (uses the existing "venv" directory that you cloned)

To activate your virtual environment, use source venv/bin/activate from your cloned mbta_django root folder. I recommend creating an alias in your ~/.bashrc so you don't have to type that command each time you need to activate your virtual environment.

If you run into permissions issues, do not use sudo to circumvent them. If you do, everything you do in the virtual environment will require sudo as well, which you don't want. Rather, change ownership of the "mbta_django" folder to your username: sudo chown -R user:group venv. For example, I used sudo chown -R alexpetralia:alexpetralia venv. Then, retry the command above.

4. Install the postgres server

sudo apt-get install postgresql postgresql-contrib

5. Configure postgres and create your database

UPDATE: this program no longer uses postgres.

For this django webapp to work, django requires certain postgres settings. They are:

username: 'postgres'
password: 'password'
database_name: 'mbta'

Run the following commands:

sudo -u postgres psql mbta (to enter the interactive prompt)
\password password
\q (to quit)
sudo -u postgres createdb mbta

If accessing the interactive prompt does not work for you, try using TCP/IP instead of Unix sockets. To do so, type psql postgres -h -d mbta (where mbta is the name of your database) to get around the the default connecting behavior. Once you are in the interactive prompt, you can run your normal SQL commands (eg. SELECT * FROM table WHERE...). Don't forget a ; to terminate your commands!

6. Install and run the RabbitMQ server

I used this tutorial to install RabbitMQ. Those steps (slightly modified here) are:

sudo su -c "echo 'deb testing main' >> /etc/apt/sources.list"
sudo wget
sudo apt-key add rabbitmq-signing-key-public.asc
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install rabbitmq-server

Your RabbitMQ server should install automatically.

7. Install python-dev

sudo apt-get install python-dev

This is required for the pandas module to install correctly.

8. Get your own API key

Register for an account here and request an API key.

Once you receive an API key, create an in the folder mbta_django/scraper/settings. It contains only one line: API_KEY = <your_api_key_here>

9. Install all the remaining Python packages

(venv)>> pip install -r requirements.txt

Note: make sure your virtual environment is active for this step.

10. Verify the celery daemon runs correctly

(venv)>> celery -A mbta_django worker -l info

11. Test that django runs on the development server

First, make executable by issuing chmod u+x Then, in the repo's root folder, run in your virtual environment:

(venv)>> ./ makemigrations (to issue database commands)
(venv)>> ./ migrate (to commit database migrations)
(venv)>> ./ runserver (to run the server; use runserver to make the app visible from other machines on the network)

You should now see the mbta_django app running locally at http://localhost:8000.

12. Prepare django for production server

In a production environment, we'll use nginx (webserver) to serve static files and uWSGI (application server) to serve the django app. For nginx to easily find the static files in one location, django offers a command to conveniently put them in one. From your app root, type:

(venv)>> python ./ collectstatic --clear --noinput

This will copy all of your app's static files and any other files included under django's STATIC_DIRS into the STATIC_ROOT.

13. Install and configure nginx

sudo apt-get install nginx

Once nginx is installed, you should find the default "Welcome" page at http://localhost:80, or more simply, localhost. Currently, nginx is showing the default webpage, whose settings are located in /etc/nginx/nginx/sites-enabled. You can sudo rm -rf default to remove this default file as it can mask errors.

Next, we need to point nginx to mbta_django's nginx.conf. To do so, using your own path below, run:

cd /etc/nginx/nginx/sites-enabled
sudo ln -s /path/to/cloned/repo/mbta_django/nginx.conf mbta_django.conf

Now, update mbta_django/nginx.conf (ie. the nginx.conf you cloned) to update the paths for your machine's paths:

  • Change server unix:///home/alexpetralia/Projects/mbta_django/run/uwsgi.sock to server unix:///path/to/cloned/repo/mbta_django/run/uwsgi.sock
  • Change alias /home/alexpetralia/Projects/mbta_django/static to alias /path/to/cloned/repo/mbta_django/static
  • Change uwsgi_pass unix:/home/alexpetralia/Projects/mbta_django/run/uwsgi.sock to uwsgi_pass unix:/path/to/cloned/repo/mbta_django/run/uwsgi.sock

Finally, edit to /etc/nginx/nginx.conf. Nginx needs to be run with the same user as uWSGI, so change the user field from www-data to your username. If you forget to do this, you will see a permissions issue in the error logs when connecting to the Unix socket.

For now, nginx should show an error because it is trying to connect to the uWSGI socket that's not yet configured. We'll set that up next.

If you are having errors with nginx (eg. 503 Bad Gateway because nginx cannot find the uWSGI socket or 505 Server Error because of a django error), check the log via tail -5 /var/log/nginx/error.log. You can restart the server using sudo service nginx restart. If you run into permissions issues, verify again that your cloned repo uses chmod -R 755 <dirname> permissions.

14. Install memcached

sudo apt-get install memcached

15. Configure uWSGI

uWSGI requires a specific set of parameters to start properly, so this is often done using shell start script. In the cloned repo, this file is uwsgi_ctl. Ensure that this file is an executable using chmod u+x uwsgi_ctl.

Within uwsgi_ctl, we need to update the path for your specific machine. Change MAIN_DIR=/home/alexpetralia/Projects/mbta_django to MAIN_DIR=/path/to/cloned/repo

We want to test if this uwsgi_ctl file runs correctly. Currently, it's configured to issue a socket file run/uwsgi.sock that nginx can connect to. To have it run over HTTP, uncomment --http and comment out --socket ${SOCKFILE}. Then in your virtual environment, test if the uWSGI server will run.

(venv)>> ./uswgi_ctl

Once you're done, we can test if uWSGI works with nginx. Recomment the --http line and uncomment out the --socket line.

Run ./uwsgi_ctl again and navigate to localhost (your nginx server should be running in the background by default; it will now see the uWSGI socket). Your entire web app should now load correctly. If there are errors, remember to investigate in your app root's logs/mbta_uwsgi.log.

16. Install and configure supervisor

Run sudo apt-get install supervisor.

The webapp fundamentally runs on two processes: (1) the django application running via UWSGI and (2) the celery background worker that scrapes data from the MBTA Developer's API. Supervisor watches these processes and restarts them if there any failures - essentially it is a safety net for your processes in a production environment.

The supervisor configuration is located in your app root's /mbta_django/supervisor.conf. There are nine (9) absolute paths here which need to be changed for your specific setup. There is also the user field. You must change this to your username (critical, otherwise supervisor will not have the correct permissions to access mbta_django/uwsgi.sock).

Finally, supervisor needs to know where to find this configuration file. To do so, run:

cd /etc/supervisor/conf.d
sudo ln -s /path/to/cloned/repo/mbta_django/supervisor.conf mbta_django.conf

Restart supervisor: sudo service supervisor restart. If you would like to control your supervisor from the browser, add this to /etc/supervisor/supervisor.conf and restart the process:

port = 9001
username = username
password = password

Now, if your server reboots or your processes die, supervisor should start on boot and automatically restart dead processes.

17. Protect settings for future git cloning

If you need to update your repo to the most recent version, you'll run git pull.

However, because you updated a couple of files with your specific machine's settings (ie. the absolute pathnames), you'll want git to ignore those and keep your version of those files. Therefore, before running git pull, first run:

git stash in "mbta_django/mbta_django" (ie. where your is located)

You may have to git add <file> specifically to a file to make sure it is ignored. After, run git pull. Finally, to revert to your pre-updated config settings, go back to both folders and enter git stash pop.


To start supervisor processes, type:

sudo supervisorctl restart all
sudo supervisorctl restart <process name> (for a specific process)

To check the status of your supervisor processes, type:

sudo supervisorctl

Debugging individual processes

To start the celery worker, type:

(venv)>> celery -A mbta_django worker -l info
(venv)>> nohup celery -A mbta_django worker -l info & (to run in background)

To start the django development server, type:

(venv)>> ./ runserver

To start the uWSGI application server, type:

(venv)>> ./uwsgi_ctl Note: ensure that uwsgi_ctl is configured to use --http and not --socket.

To restart the nginx webserver, type:

sudo service nginx restart

To restart supervisor, type:

sudo service supervisor restart

Software stack

  • Web framework: Django
  • Templating language: Jinja2
  • Database: sqlite3
  • Webserver: nginx
  • Application server: uWSGI
  • Caching system: Memcached
  • Task monitor: Flower (to do)
  • Website analytics: Google Analytics
  • Task manager: Celery
  • Message broker: RabbitMQ
  • Messaging library: Kombu
  • Process manager: Supervisor
  • CSS framework: Bootstrap 3
  • JS framework: jquery.js (Ajax)
  • JS plotting library: plotly.js (responsive)

To do

  • apiStatus should be using a message queue Publisher/Subscriber model (Kombu) or Unix socket instead of postgres
  • add more routes (?)
  • jquery only 1 plot at a time (?)


This software is distributed under the MIT License.


If you have any questions, bug reports or any other feedback, you can contact the author at his personal website.

  1. A "new trip" is defined as a trip with a unique trip_id for that day. Often however, a trip appears with one trip_id, disappears, then reappears seconds or minutes later with a different trip_id, but same vehicle_id, route and direction. For all intents and purposes, it is the same trip. The second trip is not a new trip. If a trip follows this pattern, it is considered a single trip by the program.
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