The New York Times wonders: if Google Transit makes the subway system decipherable,

what is left for New Yorkers to lord over people who live someplace else?

I never really found it all that hard to figure out.  It’s a pretty feeble article, but there’s an interesting comparison of the various trip planners available there.

Locally, I find trip planner’s assumptions to be pretty simplistic, and their alternative routes generally entirely useless (why yes!  I could get off two stops earlier and walk the rest of the way!).  The Google Transit interface is neater.  Nothing, though, really compares with just figuring it out yourself with a good system map and buses running frequently enough that the schedule doesn’t matter.

12 Replies to “New York Snobs vs. Google Transit”

  1. It took me 15 minutes to plan a full subway tour itinerary for a friend by deciphering the MTA’s map, but it took me another 30 to verify that I was indeed reading the map correctly by using transit planners. Even my fare estimate was spot-on.

    America: Please learn how to read transit maps.

    1. I have to disagree with the “a good transit map is all you need” mentality. No map is going to capture all the subtle realities of a modern transit system. We have around 260 routes in King County doing some 1300+ different route variations over the course of the week. Express routes, routes that only run at certain times of day, temporary reroutes. Transit nerds like us can handle it but the general public can’t.

      There are a lot of barriers to people using mass transit. Easy-to-use transit tools (like trip planners) are an essential part of removing some of those barriers.

      1. I’m a huge transit nerd and if I’m going somewhere I haven’t been before I’m going to use Google Transit. There are just way too many routes to make sense of. After the first time, I typically know how frequent a route is and what alternatives there are. But Brian’s right.

        Probably the worst part about bus systems is that an 8 at 6:15 ends in a different place than an 8 at 6:30.

      2. Brian,

        I’m all for having trip planners; I’m merely remarking that I think I get better results when I understand the route infrastructure an area.

      3. The best way to break down a barrier to using mass transit is to build a train. Seriously. You can’t fix the ‘where the hell does that bus go?’ problem without infrastructure – people have been trying for fifty years.

  2. Google Transit and the KC Trip planner both suck, big time.
    Just spent 20 minutes before I found there was a express bus route (45) in the morning from the south slope to UW.
    Had to change my starting point multiple times before they stopped trying to route me all over the place (even through downtown) – just so I didn’t have to walk to catch the bus it seems.
    But once I had picked up on Route 45 using Google, I went back to my actual address and guess what? Now it comes back with bus 45!

    Give me a map anyday, please. At least I can get a realistic start based on where the routes run, and then check the schedules. These online transit planners are just to rigid in their logic.

    1. OK this is interesting…
      I cleared my cache and cookies, and tried the KC Trip Planner again with my real location. Now it gives me bus 45 right away, but also a bus 30 which goes through Eastlake via Seattle Center and is a much better route.


      1. Another crappy part about trip planners is that they obviously change a lot based on the time of day that you’re checking for. This isn’t really the software’s fault, but I wish there were ways to search for “what is the most consistent way to get here in general, regardless of the time?”

    2. try adjusting the maximum walking distance and try selecting either “fewer transfers” or “fastest route” on the dropdown at the bottom.

  3. I think we just have to build better tools. The combination of geography, different bus routes, frequency, bus options, and schedules is confusing enough even if you’re a regular. If they can train a computer to do this for me, I might take the bus more places (I love that Google lists their bus tool right on their car direction tool).

    I like to consider myself an intelligent person, but it took me 2 years before I realized my bus options were better than I knew. It turns out I can take the 3 or 4 then walk an extra 5-7 blocks, which doesn’t take much longer than the 2 or the 13. I had noticed the other routes before, but on a map they seem like they’d take longer so I never thought to look at their schedules. Last month I had missed a 2 at an off-peak time and I just hopped on a 3 to experiment.

    Now, a good computer tool could have told me that the 3 and 4 are options for me if I don’t mind a few more minutes walking (I don’t).

    Oh, and what Ben said about trains. I’ve never had an issue figuring out subways.

Comments are closed.