Testing the schedule for Google Transit and Trip PlannerBy
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?