Google, please unfuck yourself

I’m writing this on board a Paoli/Thorndale train I’m taking to tonight’s meeting at the Chester County Library in Exton about Chester County transit. (Ed note: Second row, far left at the meeting.) I’m taking this train to the 204 bus, which acts as a feeder between Paoli Station and destinations farther out on US 30 not accessible to train stations. As to why there are destinations not accessible to train stations along US 30, quite a lot of that is Chester County’s historical attitude towards pedestrians, which is to build roads that are completely indifferent to whether pedestrians live or die. (For instance, the all-rail method of getting to the Chester County Library involves a 20 minute walk from Exton Station, which wouldn’t be bad at all except that that walk involves a path along roads designed for 50+mph, with limited sidewalks, through an interchange with limited-access US 30.)

My beef today is that, for all that this will be a remarkably straightforward trip beyond the edge of the world, it was a 90 minute struggle with Google Transit before I could actually figure out that there was a straightforward, non-suicidal way to do it. That’s unacceptable. Google’s transit directions before the most recent upgrade could be described as adequate. They weren’t always optimal, but they were close enough, often enough, that it wasn’t worth worrying about. Now, after the transition to the “New Google Maps”, any itinerary involving a transfer is often sufficiently ridiculous as to beggar belief, and the expanded scope of detailed information just turns into a trail of breadcrumbs for the expert user to follow, one to the next, to figure out her actual best plan.

This is especially terrible because accurate GTFS-based trip planning available on everyone’s smartphone is an enormous boon to transit agencies. I actually can’t underoverstate how liberating it is to know, even in a strange city, that you have every transit schedule you might possibly need in your pocket. And having a computer help with the decision between two or more mutually-incompatible transit options takes a lot of the stress out of daily life.

Transit networks that are useful are complicated. That’s simply a fact of life. Not even the most obsessive nerd (like me) is going to know enough details about it to actually navigate freely, outside of a few narrowly constrained corridors. That’s no way to live in a big, beautiful city like ours, or anywhere else. So many people, before the advent of online trip planning, simply didn’t bother, and drove. The number of people who might give up again if Google doesn’t restore reliability to its trip planner, or anoint a successor, may be the difference between health and insolvency (or a fare hike) for SEPTA and many other agencies that are now carrying the choice riders they failed to attract during the dark years of the late 20th Century.

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  1. Oh my good yes. I don’t know why Google dropped the ball so badly on transit, but it’s bad. One of my biggest problems with their transit integration is that, while they started putting train lines on the map, they obviously stopped caring halfway through. Unfortunately, Philly is a place with no lines on the transit layer. It’s just a shame, i find it very useful to browse where transit lines in a city are, just to get an idea of what’s available by transit in a new city. I really think it sucks.

    1. I’d been looking through part of the previous day, and was trying to figure out how long I could stay. Google was suggesting I needed to leave a few minutes into Part I, I was able to refine that to in between Part I and Part II, and eventually “immediately after Part II ends”, which is when I left. I had to rely on my practice of assuming I will just miss a subway train, but I made the train to Paoli at a pace no faster than a brisk walk.

  2. When “new maps” first came out, I switched. Less than a week later, I switched back. And I live in fear of the day when Google forcibly switches me to new maps because old maps is going away. At that point, barring a major re-design in new maps, I will start following Julia Angwin’s advice (Dragnet Nation) and attempt to remove Google from my life one service at a time.

    Google Maps for iOS 6 is likewise terrible — a tremendous downgrade from the iOS 5 version which was bundled with iOS — and I have no reason to expect it to improve with an upgrade to iOS 7. Crapple Maps *still* sucks. What the hell happened to mapping? This was a solved problem three years ago!!!

    Also, what happened to Google? As far as I can tell, over the past two years they’ve moved from a good company to a totally indifferent and possibly evil one and are relying on their reputation to convince us they’re still somehow “primarily motivated by serving the public interest”.

    I’ve heard good things about WAZE which I intend to try soon.

    1. I already use OSM-based maps for driving directions and overviews for places I haven’t been before. Google still wins on their database of business locations, so I’m not uninstalling Google Maps anytime soon. There isn’t, as of last year, a real OSM/GTFS hybrid app for Android that’s ready for prime time. When there is, I’ll flog it to the heavens, because as this fiasco demonstrates, transit trip planning is too basic a piece of infrastructure to be left in the hands of a Google monopoly.

      1. When will Congress wake up and realize Google is a monopoly, and could they even do anything to stop it at this point?

        Or is the government happy with Google as a monopoly because it’s so solidly on its way to one-stop-shopping for the NSA for *everything they could ever want to know about Americans*? (If the NSA has Google/Android, Apple, and Facebook access, and keeps letting these three companies buy anything else that starts to get widespread usage, and communications remain a Coke/Pepsi split for cellular (Verizon/ATT) and land-internet (Verizon/Comcast), the NSA is happiest. Right?)

        1. While we may not like individual practices or decisions that Google makes, it’s really hard to make an argument that it is acting in a manner that is anti-competitive, anti-trade, or anti-consumer, especially when most things they offer are free. And, frankly, when you compare Google to the other tech companies you list (VZ, VZW, Comcast, FB, Apple), Google comes out looking pretty good. I would absolutely be wary of using them as an ISP, but I think their presence in that market would be very good for consumers. I don’t know that there are any big mergers left for Google (though Google-Amazon would be fascinating), but as long as they’re gobbling up little guys doing interesting things instead of bigger guys for market share, I think they’ll stay off Commerce and Justice’s naughty list.

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