Friday, November 02, 2007

Google Transit

November 1st was the launch of the TransLink page at Google Transit, the online transit mapping service from everyone's favorite search engine. It uses the same interface as Google Maps, which provides driving directions between two addresses or landmarks, giving transit riders in Metro Vancouver an easy way to get transit directions - something the GTA needs desperately.

TransLink already has a trip planner, but it is extremely slow. It took me 1:20 to find directions from Vancouver International Airport to the University of British Columbia, leaving immediately. On Google Transit, the same search took me 9 seconds (in both cases, the search was for "YVR" to "UBC"). For people on the go, Google definitely has the edge. However, the winner isn't as clear once you look deeper.

Google's planner only has one option to customize your trip - you can select what day you travel and what time you plan to depart at or arrive by. TransLink's planner allows you to do that, and it can sort your options by travel time, number of transfers and walking distance. It also shows you the cost of the trip, critical for Vancouver's multiple fare zones. Finally, Google's planner ignored the SeaBus (the ferry across Burrard Inlet) and West Coast Express (the commuter rail line to Mission City), but it did offer you driving instructions when it couldn't find a transit route. Is that really a good thing? If you have special needs, such as a bicycle or accessibility accommodation, only TransLink's planner can filter out any trips which you can't use.

Google Transit Vancouver is still a beta (which is computer industry speak for "test version, expect bugs"), but in many cases, we don't get a second chance to convince someone to choose transit. Google's transit planner will help increase transit ridership in the city, as its done elsewhere, but there will be some who fall victim to its flaws and will never take a second look.

And seriously... offering driving instructions? The more I think about that flaw, the more upset I become.



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