Transportation Apps: Are We There Yet?

There are sites devoted to regional public transportation route planning, sites devoted to rail transportation, and city-wide sites for light rail, bus and ferry planning. But if you’re looking for something across cities, states or even countries, you’re not likely to find it.

Why is it that with GPS applications being so advanced, we’re still such a long way from the benefits of seamless transportation? It’s doubtful that riders really care which transportation authorities are responsible for their trip. As a user, I want to be able to type in my home address and get inexpensive door-to-door transportation options to any destination in the world.

There’s no reason this shouldn’t exist. If transportation authorities standardized their data, aggregation services would have no problem mapping routes from Beijing to Belize.

While the following services aren’t perfect, they’re a great start:

Google Transit: Still one of the best services, Google Transit offers public transit directions in 412 cities. While the service is great for public transit options, it does not include private bus or shuttle services. This means that users can plan trips from San Francisco to Mountain View but they cannot plan trips to Los Angeles.

HopStop: HopStop currently offers public transportation route planning in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington DC. Similar to the above two sites, HopStop still lacks the continuity to plan a cross-country excursion; however, it’s a decent way to navigate one of the serviced cities. For those interested in exploring an area, HopStop allows you to choose destinations from a map. This means you can spontaneously pinpoint a body of water or town and travel towards it.

Public Routes: This service claims to offer directions via public transportation in 24 US states and 37 major cities. One nice feature is the ability to text transit directions to your phone.

City-Specific Services: For Bay Area visitors, 511.org allows users to plan trips utilizing bus, rail, ferry, shuttle and even Greyhound services. The inclusion of commercial bus carriers and dial-a-ride vans increases the scope of the service and visitors are able to plan trips all the way to Napa and back. New York’s MTA NYC Transit offers a similar service. Meanwhile, Transport for London offers visitors a route planner for the tubes, buses, rail, riverboats and trams. Its mobile travel alerts service also offers news on delays and accidents.

People-Powered Projects: DIY City is one great group attempting to create transportation solutions across cities. The site administrators issue challenges and users respond with answers on how to create transportation solutions including distributed smart phone bus tracking systems and bar code tracking. The project exists in a number of countries. As RWW reported last week, Washington DC’s Apps for Democracy also yielded a number of crowdsourced transportation-based apps.

If you’ve got links to great transportation applications or ideas on how we can improve transportation planning options, include them in your comments below.

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