There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Between good and better trip planners

When I first used Sacramento Regional Transit's online trip planner at I thought I had found the perfect tool for getting the most out of RT's service. This was certainly more useful than sitting on hold for several minutes and then discussing your options with a 321-BUSS person.

And then Google launched its Google Transit service and added Sacramento's routes. The differences are noticeable.

Here's a for instance: I wanted to visit the Vedanta Society of Sacramento garden on Saturday afternoon.

Infoweb's answer: Give up, no way, is that on this planet?

The actual wording was:

I'm having trouble planning your trip. This is due to one of the following reasons...
  • 1. Your origin or destination are not within .4 mile of a transit stop, or they are outside of our service area. If you are within our service area, try using a nearby Landmark or major intersection which is more likely to have a stop nearby. If you are outside our service area, please consider traveling to/from one of our Light Rail stations (listed in Landmarks).
  • 2. There is no service on the day or at the time you've requested. Please try a different date or time.

Google, on the other hand, suggested a nice fall afternoon walk might be in order.

OK. So maybe a walk that Google estimates would take about 45 minutes is so long as to be the same outcome as RT suggested: You can't get there from here. But at least Google's trip planner gave an option that allowed the person taking the trip to understand why it might not be doable.

At the very least, the web site should allow users to set the acceptable walking distance. The 0.4 mile limit may be necessary for elderly passengers, but healthy middle-age men should be expected to walk a mile without discomfort. Besides, with RT's spotty coverage in suburban areas, the 0.4 walking limit makes RT service look worse than it is, especially when dealing with weekend service outside downtown.

Now when I was planning with this I was willing to give RT's service a pass. But then I checked whether it would be possible to make the same trip during a weekday afternoon when RT has its entire fleet on the streets. The outcome was a big surprise.

I asked about leaving Edison and Eastern and heading for 1337 Mission Ave. at 2:35 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5. RT insisted it still couldn't be done.

And then I asked Google Transit about the same departure time and addresses and got these three options:

There's no walking involved. Sure it's not exactly a quick trip, but if that's the criteria, little that RT offers will be acceptable. Why are these options not offered by RT's trip planner?

1 comment:

Sac Regional Transit said...

RT installed a new trip planner that dispenses with the .4 mile limitation. However a bug remains where it won't look afar when there's no service at a nearby stop. Your Saturday trip to Vedanta fails because it insists on using route 22 which has no Saturday service there. -Tom