A lot has changed in the way of transit apps for smartphones since our last article on the subject was published in November of 2015.
Back then, our respondents cobbled together a variety of apps to help them navigate around, including NextBus, DC Metro Transit, Transit, and more. Since it’s been a few years, I thought it would be a good idea to do an update.
Here’s what GGWash contributors say they use now:
The big winner is Transit, for all modes of transportation. The main reason is that it integrates different forms of transportation options into one interface, which makes it easy to use and to compare different options.
“I deleted everything else and I only use Transit,” Tracy Loh said, and Patrick Kennedy, Joanne Tang, and Matt Johnson all agreed. Dan Reed added, “Yes, Transit is the one true app, and I haven’t bothered to try anything else.”
Another reason for its popularity is because it's stayed current — Transit is currently the only smartphone app to show the locations of all of the different companies’ dockless bikes.
It also features a new feature called live mode, which tracks users during their trip and reminds them when their bus stop is approaching. It's sensitive enough to detect when users start moving faster than a walking pace, and can even determine which bus you're on. It's especially good for locating buses and dockless bikeshare bikes.
There aren't many downsides to Transit, but if you know exactly what bus, train, or bikeshare line you want to use, the interface may be unduly cluttered.
There was one holdout, however. Kelli Raboy rebuts, “I've never really gotten the hang of Transit, in part because I think the way the app works is such a departure from the way I think about trip planning. Most of the time I already know how I want to get somewhere, and just need to know when the next bus or train is coming. Transit doesn't always show that bus or train as a default (for example, if I'm planning on walking half a mile to a Metro station to avoid a transfer), and so it's more cumbersome to get the information I need than I'd like.”
Another more general issue is that apps like Transit have yet to incorporate which routes are most pleasant for users, since a pleasant route is a difficult-to-capture human interaction with the environment, rather than just numbers generated by a machine.
CityMapper is another useful option. It also integrates data for all urban modes of transport, including walking, cycling, and driving — with an emphasis on public transport.
“I'm still a loyal user of Transit, especially with dockless bikeshare now," said Brendan Casey. "I do still occasionally use CityMapper, mainly while traveling out of town.”
For more information on these two, check out Ben Lockshin’s article on CityMapper and Transit from earlier this year, which dives deep into the advantages of using both apps.
If you're taking the train and already know what route you need to take and simply want to see when the next train is coming, MetroHero works best for this purpose. It's also fun, especially for real train geeks.
Matt Johnson said: “Users can literally see where all the trains are, including where the broken down one is and how Metro is sending seven consecutive trains through the single-tracking area in the direction opposite yours.”
Individual bikeshare apps
Another change since 2015? Now DC has dockless bikeshare, which have their own slew of corresponding apps.
Five different dockless bikeshare companies have debuted in DC earlier this year, and the different bikes may be better for different users. If you're a generalist who simply wants to jump on the closest bikeshare, Transit is the easiest app since it integrates data from all of the companies.
However, if you consistently use only one or two of the bikeshares, dockless or CaBi, the individual apps might be the best way to go.
Capital Bikeshare's app has been updated, and now seems to have more functionality than the unofficial Spotcycle that many users historically preferred.
Brendan Casey says, "It’s convenient that Spotcycle works in other cities, but the official CaBi app is superior if you're in DC. I also really like that the new app lets users view personal metrics of their ride history — previously this was only accessible through the CaBi website.”
All in all, the transit app game has changed quite a bit in the past two years. Instead of users juggling a plethora of transit apps, now most contributors recommend just one or two to get around, plus their favorite bikeshare apps.
What other ones should urbanists know about? Did we leave out your favorite?