Tag Archives: public transport

Google Transit takes the scenic route

I travel a lot for both business and leisure and I use public transport whenever possible. The plus side to this is that if it is a longish journey – for example Reading to Manchester – I can settle down on the train and get on with some work. The down side is that I have to know my way around the transport networks, not just in the UK but also in the other countries I visit. After over 20 years of business travel I have a range of tools and timetables bookmarked on my laptop plus the really useful stuff inside my head gained from experience. For example, the easiest route is not always the quickest: a single cross country stopping train may take longer but the seemingly quicker alternative of three changes can be seriously stress inducing and take longer if there are delays, signals failures, “incidents” and you miss your connections. I recently spotted that two of my clients link to Google Transit (http://www.google.com/transit) on their map and directions pages so I thought I would give it a go. You do not have to go to the Google Transit page to start using this; if you are already on Google Maps and are looking for directions from A to B, choose the middle “By public transport” icon. So let’s try a journey from Reading railway station to Milton Keynes.


Google Transit


Well I didn’t expect that: a 3 hour journey using 3 buses. Running the journey through the Google Transit page itself the journey time increases to around 3.5 hours and the number of buses to 4.


Google Transit


Google is well known for giving different results for the same type of search depending on the route you take but I was perplexed by Google’s insistence that I have to travel by bus. OK, it’s Saturday so there are probably engineering works and buses are probably the best option. I checked the National Rail web site (http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/):


National Rail


No problem it seems. My train journey via London would take just under 2 hours. Perhaps bus transport is Google’s default option? Underneath the ‘B’ location is ‘Add Destination – Show options’. Click on this and from the ‘Prefer’ box you can choose Any mode of public transport, Bus, Underground, Train, Tram/Light rail. The box underneath offers Best route (no definition as to what ‘best’ means), Fewer transfers, Less walking. No matter what combination of options I selected Google insisted that bus is the only option.


Google Transit Options


Perhaps Google is confused by the cross-London element of my journey even though Underground is one of the ‘Prefer’ options. Let’s look at a simpler journey: Reading to Crowthorne. I frequently travel along this route and it is a straightforward journey by rail taking 14 minutes as confirmed by National rail.


National Rail Crowthorne


Google, however, insists that it requires two buses and 1.5-2 hours!


Google Directions Crowthorne


I tried other routes and it seems that Google, in the UK at least, thinks that public transport means bus despite the ‘Prefer’ options it offers. This could be useful, though, if there is a rail strike and you need to identify alternative means of transport. Or you could go straight to Traveline (http://traveline.info/).

Google shows postcode boundaries – sort of

Google has started showing UK postcode area boundaries but not in Google maps as one would expect. Using the standard Google search box type in your postcode and at the top of your results Google shows you a map with the boundaries of the postcode area.

Google postcode area boundaries

Although the boundaries are in roughly the right area, they are not accurate. In this example, the coverage of RG4 5BE extends north and south to the top and bottom of Star Road. Others have reported similar discrepancies in their areas. As a general indication of the location of a postcode area it is fine but do not rely on Google to identify which streets or parts of streets are covered by it. Google also gives information on the nearest bus stop, which in this case is correct but not the only option. If you click through to the full sized Google map the boundaries disappear and they do not appear at all if you do the search straight away within Google Maps. You do, though, see more information on the public transport options.

Google Postcode Bus Information

Alternative bus stops are given and the numbered routes listed. I was rather puzzled by the number 74 and 74 A, which  have never seen, but a quick check revealed that it is the “football” bus that runs once a day and only when there is a match at the Madjeski Stadium. The scheduled times for the next buses are as accurate as the bus company timetables provided via Traveline and Transportdirect. I watched three buses arrive and compared it to Google’s schedule: the number 800 was 7 minutes late, the first number 23 was 6 minutes late and the second on time so Google is not using real time data.

Google postcode bus information

Overall, it’s not bad. Just remember that the postcode boundaries are approximate so if you need something more precise use the Royal Mail web site. The bus timetable will not tell you if a bus is delayed or cancelled but if you are contemplating moving to the area it is a quick way of assessing how good (or bad) the local public transport is.