Last summer I noted that Apple would be dropping transit directions from the iPhone’s maps application as they switched away from using Google services. Around that time, Oran linked to a Kickstarter project (to which I donated) to create a trip planning app using OpenTripPlanner. A few things have changed in the world of transit trip planning since then.
For one, the Kickstarter project has shut down and returned the funds to their backers (myself included). Meanwhile, a few trip planning tools have cropped up that are worth your time. The three that I’ve tried are the new iOS Google Maps app, Transit, and WhichBus (which isn’t an app but a mobile-optimized website). OneBusAway, of course, continues to provide great real-time arrival info and stop locations. I haven’t included it in this review because it’s not new, and doesn’t do trip planning.
A reminder from my previous post: a “transit app” generally has one or more of these three features:
- a trip planner, that plots a route from point A to point B (perhaps involving separate transit agencies)
- a stop locator, usually plotting the nearest stops on a map
- real-time arrival information
First up is Google Maps, which brings Google’s legendary transit mapping data back to the iPhone. The app is overall quite good, with vector-based maps and turn-by-turn directions. If you log in to your Google account, your search history will be synced to Google Maps on the web. This is very Google-y: mostly useful; slightly creepy. Transit directions are very straightforward and exactly what you expect if you’re used to Google Maps on the web. Like the web, you can also use the app to locate transit stops and see the schedule. And, being Google, it supports transit information for many, many cities around the world. On the minus side, it lacks real-time arrival information and the stops are hard to find without zooming way, way in to the map.
WhichBus is the newest entrant on the scene. Put together during a “startup weekend,” the site has a pleasant design and a dead-simple interface, focusing on trip planning but with the added benefit of real-time arrival info. However, it has challenges with intersections, doesn’t appear to include Link in its results, and is limited to Seattle. It’s also not useful as a stop locator.
The one app that does try to integrate all three features above is Transit. Attempting to do trip planning, stop locating and real-time arrival could make for a confusing interface, but Transit pulls it off by making some fairly novel design decisions. In One Bus Away, for example, the user must drill into each stop to see the routes that are arriving at that stop. In Transit, however, one can see a listing of all routes stopping anywhere near your current location. This is handy if you’re standing in between several potential stops and trying to decide which one will get you to your destination. It also avoids telling you if the bus is late and simply shows the estimated arrival time.
What’s more innovative about Transit, however, is the pricing model. The free version provides access to the basic functionality, but a subscription is required to access some advanced features, like favoriting a route or viewing multiple route alternatives. Subscriptions cost $0.99 per month or $4.99 per year. If you’re a heavy-duty transit rider, it might be worth it. The free version might even be enough for many transit riders. The interface however, is fairly polarizing. You’ll either love it or hate it. I love it.
Do you have a favorite transit app or website? Have you tried any of the three listed above? Let us know in the comments.