I’m constantly on the lookout for good public transport apps but I’ve yet to find one that completely meets my needs. I had high hopes for TripGo as it tries to bring all your different transport modes into one place and provide you with a comparison. It’s a great idea, but not quite there yet.
The Transport Info app from 131500 is the one I use most often in spite of the wave of negativity from many reviewers. It’s not pretty, but it works effectively. I’ve been trying out the new Google Maps public transport feature and quite like it. And I’ve long liked TripView (generally the people’s favourite) as long as I’m just checking a particular route. For driving or riding, I use Google maps, although I’ve tried Whereis and Waze.
TripGo tries to cover all of these and more. TripGo’s main differentiating factor is that it shows you the different transport options in one place and gives you a means to compare them. You can see whether it will take longer to catch the bus or walk; whether a taxi will cost more than driving; whether the car uses from CO2 than the bus. You can also set your own priorities for comparison purposes; you can choose to prioritise cost over convenience for example. That core concept I love and applaud.
TripGo’s presentation is a real strength, being both clear and pretty. It also shows the approximate cost of each option, which given the complexity of Sydney’s public transport pricing is something of an achievement and not something I’ve seen anyone else attempt. The functionality in relation to public transport also seems good. It quickly and accurately shows routes and times. All pretty good so far.
I would like to see an option to set a walking speed. The app assumes I walk significantly slower than I actually do and that skews the comparisons badly. A native iPad app would be good too. Finally, I’d like to be able to save a list of favourite routes, I tend to have two or three routes I use constantly and need to get the info on them quickly. These are all the sort of features later versions can happily add in.
However, there are some serious problems [Edit: see the addendum at the end of this article for more on these from the developer]. The cycling directions seem to be very vague, they either are the same as the driving directions (and so had me cycling along the Pacific Highway instead of through a nearby cycle route) or just indicative (a straight line between two distant points) which tells me nothing useful at all.
If you are driving, the app tries to take into account you having to park your car, which is a great idea; but on a couple of test runs it wanted me to park in places that were miles away from my destination when better, closer alternatives were available. For example going from Milsons Point to Town Hall, the app suggests parking in The Rocks and walking all the way up George Street – which makes no real sense at all. An option to choose not to have parking suggestions incorporated into the route would seem to be a good idea. For that reason if no other I’m sticking with Google for my driving directions right now.
There are other reasons though. The driving directions are not detailed or smooth. The screenshot on this page shows the driving directions to get from North Sydney Station onto the Harbour Bridge. I’m not sure the required u-turn is possible let alone practical. And the presentation has nothing on Google’s smooth directions or Whereis’s 3D-view.
The developers say the app will combine transport modes, showing you how to use bus and taxi together for example, but I’ve failed to see that happen often and I can’t see a way to force it to happen. For example, in the parking test above I’d have expected it to suggest I catch a bus up George St to Town Hall rather than walking the entire way. That said, another option on the same Milsons Point to Town Hall route had the app suggesting I park in Rozelle and that time it did suggest a bus all the way back to Town Hall.
For straight public transport TripGo is a nicely presented alternative to Transport Info, TripView or Google; it is not, however, a stunning improvement. For cycling or driving I think the app has some real issues; and, with those issues, its real point of differentiation, the comparison of transport modes, simply doesn’t work reliably. TripGo will have to act quickly to jump ahead, especially now that Google has released the free public transport service on its own maps.
Like the developers of a lot of these apps, the group behind TripGo are asking for feedback on errors and appear to be responsive. The problem is, though, that this sort of app is mission critical and I simply don’t want persistent errors cropping up. I don’t mind being the live beta-tester for something like Ninja Blocks where something not working doesn’t impact on my day: But being given inaccurate directions is a killer. And the problem the developers face is that, given I have alternatives, I’m questioning why I would keep coming back to this one to check whether things have been fixed. This problem is far from unique to TripGo, but it’s one they are going to have to find a way to navigate themselves through.
TripGo is currently free and available for iPhone and Android. Full details on the developer’s website.
More information just to hand…
In the hours since I published this review, the developers have been in touch to say that the driving and cycling directions are there for comparison purposes only: “They are for comparison and not to provide exact directions. We would like our estimates to eventually be of such a high quality that they can be used for directions, but we aren’t there yet.” OK that answers some of my criticisms in the original article and on it’s face leaves my review up at the midway point that I was saying positive things about the public transport side of the app. And as I said, it is a good public transport app.
It does, however, leave two issues. The first is that if only the public transport directions are intended to be really used, giving the others equal prominence is just confusing and messy in the interface. There’s absolutely nothing in the app to show that the alternatives are just there for comparison – they look just like the rest of the directions. Perhaps a second column in the results showing just the comparisons?
The second issue is that neither the app or its advertising make it clear that it is focussed on public transport with other modes there for comparison. The app description in iTunes says: “TripGo Sydney can provide instructions for travel using a combination of many different modes of transport, including public transport options such as train (Cityrail), bus (Sydney Buses, Busways, Hillbus and many other major bus providers), ferry, tram & monorail, driving by car, hailing a taxi, riding a bicycle or motorbike or by walking.” I’m not sure how I, or anyone else, could interpret that as other than them providing directions in all those modes.
With greater clarity in the interface and the advertising, my opinion of this app could have been entirely different. And given how quickly the developers have responded it may well be different in the near future.
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