New York subway riders know the sharp and familiar pain of walking to your station, five minutes late, rushing down the steps, Metrocard unsheathed -- only to find construction has closed the station for the weekend, or rerouted the train express to skip past that exact stop. Even though you could have walked to another.
Google Maps, which has incorporated subway route information for several years, will now include prominent placement of subway service updates in New York City.
Subway riders -- though not bus riders -- can see planned service disruptions in Google Maps now by clicking on the a station icon or when using Google Maps for trip planning. (HopStop has included this feature since 2008).
The information won't include real-time disruptions, including sick passengers and police action, two of the most frequent sources of delays. The MTA does not yet make real time delay information public.
Google has already integrated real time service updates in six cities (though not New York where the MTA does not make that information available), and caters to non-car owners with biking and walking directions.
Today's update is yet another step by Google to court gadget-addicted transit riders as a rivalry for customer loyalty with Apple intensifies. Apple recently dropped Google Maps from its latest iOS operating system, and now offers its own mapping software, which to the chagrin of transit advocates means there is no longer built-in transit routing software on iPhones.
Other smaller companies already integrate the MTA's published service change information in transit trip planning. HopStop, for instance, takes those service changes into account when suggesting the fastest subway or bus route. "We will never route you through a route that has a planned service change in it," HopStop CEO Joe Meyer tells Transportation Nation. "We dynamically re-route users around those planned service changes in real-time."
Google will still route you through a station with a planned service change, but now the Google directions will also display the service alerts. So, they will suggest that you go to a closed station while also telling you the station is closed, so you can search for alternate routes.
As we've reported before, Google's updates on transit mapping is news because it places subway information in front of a massive audience: one billion monthly users. Drivers already have a bevy of GPS guided automobile trip planning tools built into cars. Seeing parallel transit info with prominent placement helps facilitate making better choices between modes of transportation, where there is a choice.
The information was already out there before in this case. Planned service change information is posted on the MTA's website, but now it is placed one click away from where millions of local travelers already check right when they are deciding how to make a trip: car or subway. Making a subway trip easier, means more people will do it, which is why transit agencies around the country are investing in making more data publicly available.
Google won't say what other cities will have integration of planned service changes next. The addition of new cities is almost certain, but the timing depends on how local transit agencies make data available. London already has service information and then some. Olympic fans taking the tube this week can see unplanned delays too, in real-time. That's because Transport For London makes real-time data available to Google, something New York's MTA is still unable to do.