Google Maps celebrated 15 years of mappage a couple of weeks ago and recently released a series of new updates, one of which I think will help connect members of the public with local transport links, in particular, local bus networks.
The platform has long been able to show you where bus stops are on any road in the UK and have been able to tell you which services stop there, but in this most recent update, you can now get real time information on the vehicles set to arrive at that stop and the results are pretty accurate.
I used this on two occasions to test it out in real time, one on Thames Travel’s ST2 service from Oxford to the John Radcliffe hospital and the other on the Brookes Bus U5 service, operated by Oxford Bus Company.
On both occasions, I was able to see the bus in real time, the ETA forthcoming stops and whether the bus was on time, delayed or early. The handy route map that shows you where all stops are along the route alongside your own location tracker (If you have it enabled) was also useful.
Unfortunately I didn’t have an OxonTime digital display board at the stop whilst using the ST2 to compare against Google Maps, but found it was accurate when comparing the status board at the bus stop to the Google Maps app when using the U5. Presumably OxonTime and Google Maps use the same tracking data that is supplied by the bus companies, but one displays it in a better format than the other, in my opinion.
But It’s this kind of connectivity that I hope makes using public transport easier and engaging for people to use. Whilst operators may have their own apps packed full of features including live tracking and ticketing, making this information universally available and accessible on well known apps on all device types and platforms is a step in the right direction.
It would be great to see all major operators provide Google with tracking data to supply times. At present, in Oxfordshire at least, it appears the live time data is only available on services provided by Oxford Bus Company and Arriva, whilst Stagecoach services in the area appear as ‘Scheduled’, hopefully real time information from them will come to Google Maps in the future.
From finding out how long the bus is due at your stop before you even get there, to being able to charge your phone via USB/wireless charging, using free WiFi and social seating on vehicles, bus travel in particular has changed immensely over the years, we just need to spread the word that this is an alternative way to travel that in the most part, has lots of creature comforts.
In the wider context of useful public transport information on Google Maps, train departure times are also available and again, I prefer how this is presented more on Google Maps than the National Rail website.
Top Photograph: Ciaran Bird, used with permission.