Photo by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr.

Drivers using a GPS unit or Google Maps on their phone have long been able to have a tinny robot voice tell them when they need to take a right or left turn. Now, Android phone users will be able to have the same step-by-step directions when they ride transit.

A recent update to Google Maps integrates the GPS function on your phone with transit directions. Using this feature, the phone will automatically track your progress toward your destination, and will notify you when your stop is approaching, when to leave the vehicle, and how to walk to the next point.

According to the Google Blog: “This is particularly helpful if you’re in a city where you don’t speak the language and can’t read the route maps or understand the announcements.” But given the confusing nature of many maps and sometimes-inaudible announcements, it could be very useful when taking an unfamiliar bus even in one’s own city.

I tried it on my way to work today. Although the GPS signal did not work underground, when I arrived at Eastern Market I was directed to take “DCN22” (the old name for the Circulator). Following the route on my bicycle, I was notified when I would have reached my stop. During the trip, my phone plotted my location on the map using the familiar blue triangle.

Screenshots of a sample trip with real-time information. Image from Google.

Google is not the only one building tools to notify riders of transit information. Metro itself is working on a system to alert riders when there is a major delay to their line, using emails and text messages, spokesperson Dan Stessel told the Riders’ Advisory Council last night. New Jersey Transit has a similar system, set up by the communications people who Richard Sarles has now brought down to Washington.

But Metro can’t build everything. An outage notification system is perfect for a transit agency to build, but they’re not going to be building the map application installed on everyone’s phones. By opening up data publicly for developers, Metro has made it possible for innovations like this to come to millions of residents and tourists.

Most of the region’s local transit providers have already released their routing data publicly and are included in Google Maps. The few remaining ones ought to follow as soon as possible.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.