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.