One of the first posts I made on this blog in mid 2011 was about real time location services for public transport. At the time, this was limited to an SMS service where you send a message with a bus stop number and receive a response with all buses set to arrive there in the next half hour, achieved by installing GPS devices on buses to track where they are at any given time. There was also the 131500.info trip planner, but it did not provide real time data nor was it the most user friendly system out there. Mobile apps like TripView did provide a better user interface, but did not provide multi modal functionality (so if you had to catch a bus and train then you needed to do 2 separate searches). Meanwhile, the easy to use Google Transit function on Google Maps was limited to trams and the monorail in Sydney.
At the time, I lamented that there was not some more user friendly, perhaps more graphical form of providing this service, and one that provided the actual real time location of your bus/train/ferry/tram rather than just what’s on the timetable. There was little reason why either wasn’t possible at the time, in fact the former had already been achieved by Fink Labs before being shut down by the Transport Department (see image below).
Thing have changed significantly since then. Google Transit expanded to all modes of transport, while real time data (currently only for for government buses, but hopefully set to be expanded to all buses next year) was introduced to transport apps. So here is a summary of some of the major transport services: 131500, Google Transit, TripView, and TripGo.
Note: One of the mobile apps (Arrivo Sydney) that recently added real time information is Android only, and as an iPhone user I was unable to try it out.
Pros: multi-modal, offers a call center service
Cons: Interface could be easier to use, no real time data
This is the official government transport information service. It was great when it first came out years ago, but has seen little improvement since. In almost every case, you’re better off going with Google Transit. Google’s service is easier to use, has a better display, and everything that Google is missing is also missing from 131500. The one exception is the phone service for those luddites out there, where someone at the call center will let you know the details you need.
Strangely enough, despite this being the government service, it lacks real time data for buses.
Pros: easy to use interface, good for people unfamiliar with transport network, multi-modal
Cons: no real time data
All bus, train, ferry, and light rail timetable data in was incorporated in July of 2012. It provides multi-modal information, so you do not have to do a separate search for a bus trip and a train trip, you just did a single search that gave you the information for both. The user interface is very easy to use, both on a computer or a mobile device, particularly for people who only know the origin and destination, but aren’t sure where nearby bus stops or train stations are or what the best bus route to take is. The main downside is the lack of real time data, and thus does not take into account delays to services (similar to its traffic function, which recommended the fastest way to drive given the road traffic at any particular time and day).
Pros: easy to use interface, can use offline, real time bus data
Cons: not multi-modal, need paid version to save trips for later, assumes some knowledge of transport network
Prior to Google Transit, this was arguably the best mobile transport app. A free version is available, with a premium version which allows you to save trips for easy access later on. It now contains real time bus data, and this is displayed in an easy to read format. It is also the only app I’ve seen that allows offline use by downloading all the timetables to your device (handy when you’re in a black spot or out of data).
The real time data can also be displayed in map format, in a similar manner to the Fink Labs app from 2011, but with one important improvement – it now tells you the direction the bus is going.
The main shortfalls of TripView are that it does not allow multi-modal trips, and you need to know the exact origin and destination of your journey. For example, if you are going from the city to Castle Hill, it won’t tell you whether the best way to get there is to get a direct bus, or to take a train to Parramatta and then change for a bus. You have to work that out yourself. And if a train and bus is the faster option, then you have to do 2 separate searches. Also problematic is that if you tell it that you are going from a specific bus stop, then it won’t consider telling you to walk around the corner to catch a bus from another bus stop, even if that is a quicker option. But if you are familiar with the bus and train network, then that’s less of a problem.
Pros: multi-modal, real time data, very informative, includes taxis
Cons: Interface is clumsy
At first, TripGo looks like the poor sibling of TripView. In actuality, it’s something inbetween Google Transit and TripView. Like Google Transit, it provides multi-modal trips (including driving and bicycles), and like TripView it provides real time bus data. In addition, it also has taxis as an option, and allows you to sort the alternatives by cost in dollars, trip length, carbon emissions or first to arrive at destination if you leave now. This also means you don’t need to have an understanding of the transport network. It also makes use of your address book and calendar when setting up your trip.
This app is new, and has some teething problems. For example, it sometimes complains that the origin and destination are too far away, doesn’t factor in the airport station access fee in the cost of getting the train to the airport, or recommends driving to and parking at central station before getting a train from there.
Where it misses the mark is on the user interface, which just feels a bit clumsy. That in itself is enough to keep me from using it on most occassions. Though if I’m making a trip to or from an unfamiliar location for the first time, I’d consider using it just that once to gather my bearing. But after that I’d probably stick to either Google Transit or TripView.