This guest post contains the opinion of the writer and does not represent the official views of Bus Riders of Saskatoon.
After years (or what seemed like years) of waiting for Saskatoon Transit to both equip their fleet with GPS and provide real time information on bus locations that day finally arrived as described in a previous post a few weeks ago.
No doubt many of you immediately tried out the new Saskatoon Transit website, especially the new trip planning tool and the real time bus location functions as did I. Like myself, many of you were probably cautiously optimistic, only to be somewhat let down by the new website. It’s adequate if you are on a computer, but on your phone? Not so much.
Saskatoon Transit has stated that they have no plans to develop a mobile app, instead relying on the website which is designed to be “mobile friendly”. I have not found it to be very “mobile friendly”, nor easy and convenient to use on my phone. Their decision may be a good one in a way, as it seems that every other transit system that uses similar software (which to my knowledge is based on the Trapeze software commonly used by public transit systems) seems to have similar problems. Edmonton Transit did release their own mobile app, to poor reviews and much derision.
Fortunately there is an alternative, and probably more to come. The Transit App, developed by a Montreal company is one of many mobile apps available for transit users. Like most apps, this one was basing its information on available public schedules but did not have real time information.
Until now. This app (there may be others) now provides the real time GPS information as they describe here. Saskatoon Transit does not release their real time data publicly (yet), though they have indicated that is on the way. Some may express concern about the manner in which the Transit App is obtaining the data, but frankly I don’t care. I, and every other taxpayer in this city paid for this data and it should be available openly. Now. There is no need for Saskatoon Transit to even consider developing their own app given the Edmonton experience. Just release the data openly. App developers will do the rest. Lead,
follow, or get out of the way. The lead has already been lost, so get out of the way.
I have found it to be easy to use on my phone, much easier and quicker that trying to use the mobile friendly website that Saskatoon Transit provides. I’m a regular transit commuter, but my use of transit is, for the most part, fairly regular and confined to routes I am familiar with. Even so this app is providing me with information I want and has made it possible to kill off one of my frustrations with Transit, the ability to make rational and dynamic changes to my route selections based on my own personal needs.
To illustrate, I work downtown and there are at least three different routes I can use to get home. Only one passes by a grocery store. In the past my standing personal rule was to take the first bus that came along that would take me home. I would never let a bus go by (especially in winter), hoping that the other route (that passes the grocery store) would be along shortly. Now with the Transit App I can tell that the “grocery bus” is coming, but just out of sight. So I can choose to forgo the first bus when I need to stop at the store on the way home.
My only relatively minor quibbles so far are that one of the routes I use regularly in the morning does not appear at all in the app. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it is a morning peak only route? I don’t know. That said, the app is very helpful in the morning when I miss that bus, because I can quickly check to see when the next bus is coming on a different route two blocks away. At least I know how fast I have to run. Or not have to run at all.
I have found the Transit App to be a bit of a battery hog, but now that I know that, I simply check it for the information I need and close it. The trip planner has worked adequately for me, though I have heard from others that it did not. I do find the walking time estimates to be very high, it would be nice if the app settings allowed for a slow/med/fast walk setting to make the estimates more realistic. If I took the trip planner’s estimate I wouldn’t use the bus route I usually do to get home because it would mean a 25 minute walk after getting off the bus. For me it’s a 12 minute walk, including the stop at my mailbox.
I’m pleased with the Transit App thus far, it’s useful and easy to use. There is room for improvement, but I am going to continue to use it, and I will probably never use the new Saskatoon Transit website ever again. Certainly not on my mobile.