Testing the schedule for Google Transit and Trip Planner


Google Transit and the MTA’s Trip Planner are, potentially, two of the more useful New York City-based directional tools available online. Google Transit combines walking directions with transit information to provide users with accurate routes around the city, and both services incorporate the MTA’s schedules to offer up to-the-minute directions.

For these services, the options are really quite simple. Enter your address; enter a destination; enter a departure time; and voilà, directions. Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to rely on Google Maps on Blackberry — now with Transit directions — for the scheduling. I supposedly know which trains are leaving which station at what time.

But there’s a catch. I’ve noticed that these schedules aren’t exactly right. So I decided to do an unscientific test today. This evening, after watching the final Presidential Debate in Alphabet City, I ran the directions back to my place in Brooklyn. Common sense — and Google Maps — told me to hoof it to Union Square and take the 11:04 Q train. Works for me.

After a nice stroll from 11th and Ave. B to Union Square, I arrived at the Q platform at 11:02. “Phew. Two minutes to spare,” I thought to myself as I peered into the dark tunnels, expectantly waiting for a train to pass.

11:03 came and went. 11:04 came and went. And so did 11:05, 11:06, 11:07. After a few more minutes of empty tracks and desolate tunnels, at 11:12, an N train rolled into the station. This was, by the way, the first downtown train to pass through Union Square in the ten minutes I had been standing there. Two minutes later, an out-of-service R160 zoomed down the express tracks.

Finally, at 11:15 p.m., one minute before the scheduled 11:16 and 11 minutes after the 11:04 train that never showed should have arrived, a Brooklyn-bound Q arrived in Union Square. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and since the train originated just four stops away, getting the schedule right shouldn’t have been that hard. But it was.

Now, to be fair, it’s not always this bad. In the morning, the trains that pass through 7th Ave. on the Brighton line seem to be about two minutes earlier than scheduled, and these trains show up regularly. But my experiences tonight show the limitations of these new scheduling platforms.

Google Transit’s directions are great; Trip Planner provides an invaluable service. But if the schedules are inaccurate or if they divulge from reality such that I don’t know which scheduled train I bordered at 11:15 p.m. last night, they’ll only be useful to a point. But then again, who really relies on the published schedules for the subways in New York anyway?

Categories : MTA Absurdity

11 Responses to “Testing the schedule for Google Transit and Trip Planner”

  1. Release early and iterate.

  2. Patrick Di Justo says:

    I think the last people to rely on a subway schedule were Mr. Blue, Mr. Grey, Mr. Green, and Mr. Brown on the 6 line.

  3. slr says:

    MTA Trip Planner is the best. Hop Stop is second and Google comes in last. Its pretty bad (if traveling from battery park to queens it tells you to transfer from the 6 to the F without explaining that it’s an out of subway transfer. What if you were visiting, its confusing if you don’t know where you’re going and thats exactly the type of person that will be using the service.

    • R2 says:

      You’ve got to be kidding me! Obviously suggesting such an egregious transfer was done by a group of out-of-towners. Seriously, it would be helpful to consult some natives when doing this (at the very least)!

      Could you imagine if someone who is not in top physical form attempting to perform said transfer: walk up to street level, then four blocks (three if at front of train) north, then descend into the depths of hell for the Queens-bound F!!! Seriously…..I can imagine the devil himself saying: “Damnnnnnn!!!

  4. Chris says:

    The trip planners can only tell you what the nominal schedule is. As you found out, the actual on-the-ground schedule only vaguely resembles that schedule. My thoughts on the need for trains to actually run on-schedule are in a previous comment.


  5. RBC says:

    ROFL @ Patrick DiJusto

    I love “Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” – its a quintessential NY movie. My fav part is when the robbers announce they’re hijacking the train, all the passengers start laughing. Classic!

  6. Josh says:

    That last sentence said it. Does anybody actually look at subway schedules? If I go downstairs to grab the train, am I really thinking about catching the 12:30 4 train from Fulton Street? Or am I just thinking about catching the 4 train from Fulton Street?

  7. Ian Turner says:

    Google’s trip planner is wildly optimistic; it assumes an athletic walking speed and that all transit services always run on time. Hopstop makes much more reasonable assumptions, with the result that its time estimates are far more accurate. Main complaint about hopstop? For some reason it frequently lists longer itineraries before shorter ones.

    Trips123 is useful when you want to use services other than MTA NYCT, but otherwise suffers from the same problems as Google.

  8. Gil says:

    I agree that the times are usually wrong, but I can’t really expect it to be right. I just want Google to have a checkmark option that takes into account “worst case scenario”.
    For example, if I’m taking the 2/3 and then the 1 from Wall Street to 50th st, starting at 3:35 pm at the station, it currently tells me:

    a) THIRTEEN MINUTES ON THE 3 TRAIN (There’s a 3 train leaving Wall St. at 3:37pm, arriving at Times Square at 3:50pm)
    c) ONE MINUTE ON THE 1 TRAIN (There’s a 1 train leaving Times Square at 3:53 PM, arriving at 50th st. at 3:54 PM.)
    TOTAL TIME TO TRAVEL: 19 minutes.

    But really I want to see this:
    a) EIGHT MAX MINUTES WAITING (i.e., let’s say a 2/3 comes every eight minutes on average at this time of day)
    b) THIRTEEN MINUTES ON THE 3 TRAIN (average time on a 2/3 train from Wall St. to Times Square)
    c) FIVE MINUTES MAX WAITING (i.e., let’s say a 1 comes every five minutes at that time of day)
    d) ONE MINUTE ON THE 1 TRAIN (average time on a 1 train from 42nd to 50th st)

    Yeah, eight minutes isn’t a lot, but when you’re a new yorker and you mostly want Google Maps to tell you how long it takes to get somewhere (or what the fastest of two routes are), this would be the most useful thing.


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