Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Google Maps - The New Way to Plan Your Bus Route

I am going to have to revise my Guide to Bus Use, in particular the section on how to plan a journey by public transport. Google has added a public transport option to its route planning service on Google Maps. Google uses the same data as the well-known Traveline and Transport Direct sites - data that, in the case of buses, is inputted by an army of unsung heroes working in local council public transport offices all over the country.
To use it, just open Google Maps and input your start point. Then click on "Directions" and again on the icon that looks (a bit) like the front of a bus. Unfortunately Google calls this the "Transit" icon.
You can then enter your destination and almost immediately you'll get a travel plan that assumes you want to set off straight away. You can however modify this to set a date and time of departure (or arrival) if your prefer.You also get the route displayed on Google Maps, although the bus routes don't follow the roads exactly as they do on some Traveline sites Like Transport Direct the software assumes you want the quickest possible journey and will therefore offer the combination of walk/bus/train that achieves this. You can, however, by using the "more options" tab select a "preferred mode", which is useful if you have an aversion to trains, or, heaven forbid, buses.

Here is an example of an enquiry for a journey from Foxton to Braunston - note that "narrow boat" is not a "preferred option"!     Foxton to Braunston by Google

Although using the Transport Direct data, almost everything about the Google software is better. It offers fewer options per place (Transport Direct offers far too much detail sometimes); It works much, much faster; and you get a map straight away and without having to ask.  The only faults I have found so far is that there are no links to the bus operators' timetables (Google thinks that the buses are operated by Traveline for some reason and provides links to regional Traveline sites) and, like Transport Direct, it cannot distinguish between local buses and express coaches. This leads to two problems: It sometimes offers a long-distance coach for a very local journey, which is impractical and it makes it difficult for Concessionary Bus Pass holders to plan lengthy "bus-only" journeys as their passes are not valid on coaches.

But apart from that it's a huge improvement on the rather clunky Traveline / Transport Direct sites and I'll certainly be using it in future.

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