google maps wants you to see all your transit options

Google Maps is slowly unveiling a major update (sign up here), including an upgrade to the transit function of the map. There's been plenty to criticize in the existing trip planner Google has offered for years, which Nate Wessel's guest post here in April summed up well. In short, trip planners tell you how to get from an origin to a destination, but they don't do much to reveal the broad scope of your transit mobility in a city. 

I haven't yet had the chance to test the update myself, but it looks as though Google is at least moving in the right direction. Ask the new Google Maps for transit directions, and rather then routing a hypothetical "shortest trip" which often relies on impractical connections between low-frequency services, you'll get several alternatives based on the best frequency over the longest span of service. It also (finally) accounts for lines whose paths duplicate service over a section of a trip. Not only are the alternatives put on the map, but there are some clever trip visualizations, too.

Screen shot 2013-05-17 at 2.26.02 PM

What's more, Google is also starting to understand the utility of giving users access to the universe of possible trips from a single origin. The screenshot below shows two lines available from a station in London, but its worth noting that plenty of other lines are also visible. 

Screen shot 2013-05-17 at 2.17.55 PM

 Bruce over at Seattle Transit Blog has a smart take on this:

Guidebook routing more closely reflects the way the vast majority of people actually use transit, prioritizing frequency and span of service on generally-useful routes over infrequent one-seat rides that just happen to provide doorstep service. Its works best, of course, in transit systems full of truly high-frequency, reliable all-day routes, but to the extent that we have such service here, the same ideas apply.

Google Maps is one of the most important methods people use to learn how to make trips using transit. To date, it has offered a bare-bones trip planner which might be somewhat useful in making an individual trip, but with very little information about the system beyond what its algorithms (sometimes seemingly arbitrarily) determine is the best way to get somewhere. While this isn't quite the automatically generated frequent network map I called for here, Google is finally incorporating frequency as a critical part of travel directions. 

10 Responses to google maps wants you to see all your transit options

  1. Jonah May 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    It’d be great if Google incorporated estimated parking time into the driving estimates. Would show that transit times are actually more competitive…

  2. Alen Teplitsky May 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    looks cool but i rarely search for transit since i know where all the subway trains go in NYC
    i wish google had better driving directions. they currently route shortest route even if its backed up with traffic

  3. Tom West May 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Does it still include the traditional style trip planner? Those of us living in areas with low frequency/peak-only transit routes, or who *must* be somewhere by a given time, or who want to know when we’ll be home if we leave *now*… we still need the traditional option.

  4. Beta Magellan May 22, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    @Alen Teplitsky The same’s an issue for transit maps if you live in a city with heavy arterial transit—during the afternoon peak in Chicago a slightly-roundabout rail trip might take less time than a more direct bus trip along, say, Western. I made this mistake once, and ultimately I regretted not trusting my instincts and going with Google’s recs.

  5. JB Maur May 22, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Google maps is getting better. It has been the first to allow multipoint trip planner. Allowing people to choose their trip by frequency or by speed is way better… but not perfect yet.
    Actually, trip planning tools are always thought for one use only: I go from point A to point B.
    A perfect trip panner would allow people to had activity points. Exemple: I go from point A, make a grocery stop for 1 hour, and go to point B. THAT would be a real trip planner.

  6. StevenMWhite May 22, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Been playing around with the new maps this morning… It’s ok. Might take some getting used to. Looks nice at first glance, but the way it continually changes as you click on things can be disorienting.
    The performance is rather slow, and I think hampers some of the usability. They’ve also gotten rid of the transit “layer” and you now have to search for “Transit,” or click on a station to get those lines and info to show up.

  7. Todd Boulanger May 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    The other issue I hope Google addresses is the problem of trying to transfer between two transit systems…especially when one is not yet Google friendly (CTRAN), it would be nice to have a note as such and show the closest point where the Google friendly transit (TRIMET) drops you off vs. a route that includes Amtrak service a day later.

  8. Todd Boulanger May 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    I also hope that Google’s next app succeeds by teaming with/ integrating the features that TripGo has for Chicago…in the ability to compare different modes in travel time and cost, etc. It would also be nice to have the ability to add bicycling as a bimodal option to transit like the walking function is now. Plus adding bike parking locations like Bikestation, where they exist.

  9. Miles Bader May 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Yeah, the current Google maps is pretty decent at transit routing (infinitely better than Apple maps!!), but has some definite odd quirks that could be smoothed over…
    I’ve found the current maps doesn’t really do a good job of dealing with express trains, which can vastly speed up a trip. It seems to know about them, but doesn’t seem willing to slightly pessimize other legs of a trip to take advantage of express service on the “major leg”, something a human will usually do.
    E.g. for my work-home trip, I find Google maps always recommends I walk to a small train station that only has local train service, when in fact it’s almost always much faster to walk slightly farther (and by “farther” I mean like 50m!) to a major station which not only is an express stop, but also is vastly better connected with the surrounding city (many more entrances, dedicated pedestrian over/underpasses, etc).

  10. Miles Bader May 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    @Todd Boulanger
    Can’t you already easily compare modes to some extent in google maps, just by choosing your end points, and then clicking on the “by car”, “by transit”, “by bicycle” (in some places), etc, buttons? It will quickly show the trip by the chosen mode…

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