Although Google Transit has provided trip planning information and embedded stops/stations for BART, Caltrain, and VTA for quite some time, until now, information for the Bay Area’s most heavily used transit agency — SF Muni, of course — has been noticeably absent, other than marking the subway and accessible surface rail stations. In a press conference yesterday, though, it was announced that at long last, we may enjoy the fruits of a partnership between Google and the SFMTA.
When searching for directions between two locations within San Francisco, the “take public transit” link provides directions using all Muni routes, including buses. And while there are some smaller issues to work out — for example, correct labeling of the K-Ingleside versus the T-Third — it appears to handle transfers between Muni routes and between Muni and BART/Caltrain with relative ease. Trip schedules are based on Muni’s often-fictional timetables, but Google would like to eventually expand the service so that trip routes are calculated on the basis of real-time vehicle information, rather than using static, published schedules. Of course, real-time information is already available locally via NextMuni and NextBus, but Google’s eventual goal would be to use real-time data on its maps for potentially all transit agencies across the nation and beyond, and not just for those that utilize NextBus technology — so real-time integration is on hold. At the moment, the actual locations of San Francisco bus stops are not embedded into the Google Maps, but this feature will hopefully be added soon. Stops would be viewable upon zooming in to the street level, as is the case for BART, Caltrain, VTA, and other agencies around the country.
What does this mean for Transbay Blog’s homegrown, one-man transit mapping project operation? Must The Man always emerge victorious? Seriously, though: while this new feature will certainly save me a lot of work inputting stop information, I do not plan on giving up on this project quite yet. There are still opportunities to use the custom maps as a means of filling in gaps and providing useful information that would not be included in the official Google Maps, and I expect that the project will evolve in this direction. One of my personal favorite features of the transit stop maps is the ability to relate “lay of the land”-style information that does not get reported in standard trip planners — information like Muni Metro accessibility points, and entries and exits to subway stations. Other possibilities include mapping limited bus stops and strategic points to transfer between lines. Lastly, I believe that station guides (with transfers organized by destination, as has been partially implemented on our custom BART map) are a good way to illustrate connections between regional rail and local transit routes. Implementing these features would, of course, require far less time than mapping all stops out from scratch — but they would still supply useful information to ease transit riders’ experiences, particularly when used in conjunction with Google Maps that are filled in with bus stop markers.
Do you have ideas for other supplemental information that is mappable and would be useful in conjunction with an official Google Map of Muni stops? Any impressions about the Google transit directions? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.