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

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Google Transit vs. RT's Infoweb

In newspapers across the wide expanse of America readers awoke to news today that stubborn belly fat in middle age can triple the threat of dementia in old age. Again, Google Transit comes to the rescue.

Ever since I started planning for the adventure of getting the wife to leave her car at home and take transit to work, I've had a gut feeling that something more than bus routes and train connections was governing Google Transit's algorithm for mapping point-to-point transit options.

This something is the difference between getting from Point A to Point B the innovative Google Transit way or going there with the suspiciously self-serving Sacramento Regional Transit way.

Pick up these images: In the one hand, young, creative techno wizards at a company that proudly proclaims "You can make money without doing evil." In the other hand, see middle-aged transit operators and bureaucrats, many of whom, we learned today, are at risk for dementia in old age.

Now, put the images down and go your computer and open up your Web browser. Create two Web-browsing windows. In one, go to In the other, go

In the Google window, put Watt & Whitney, Sacramento as the start address and White Rock Rd & Prospect Park Dr, Rancho Cordova as the end address. Set the departure time to 7:20 a.m. (Any weekday will do.) Click "Get Directions" and then select either of the two "Did you mean" links to get Google Transit's suggested transit options.

In the Regional Transit Trip Planning window, put Watt & Whitney in the "I'm starting from ..." line and White Rock Rd & Prospect Park Dr in the "I am going to ..." line. Specify 7:20 a.m. for the departure time. Click on "Get trip plan" and then select WHITE ROCK RD @ PROSPECT PARK DR, RANCHO CORDOVA and again click "Get trip plan."

Now compare the suggested routes.

Sacramento Regional Transit suggests catching the No. 84 bus, and transferring to the outbound light rail train. RT says to get off at Mather Field station and board a No. 74 bus for the trip to the destination.

Google Transit suggests the same No. 84 bus to light rail. But here is where the two algorithms for mapping point-to-point transit options depart. Instead of getting off at Mather Field, Google suggests continuing on to the Cordova Town Center. From there, the young, creative techno wizards at a company that proudly proclaims "You can make money without doing evil" suggest a walk of about 16 minutes. It will do you good, lower your risk of dementia, make you attractive.

Of course, the middle-aged transit operators and bureaucrats, many of whom are at risk for dementia in old age, will point out that you won't live long enough to enjoy your dementia-free old age if you take Google's suggestion. That leisurely 16-minute walk to your destination includes a brisk dash across Highway 50. In other words, it can't be done. Certainly you can't walk from light rail to White Rock Road and Prospect Park Drive in 16 minutes.

An algorithm, according to the Wikipedia definition, is a type of effective method in which a definite list of well-defined instructions for completing a task, when given an initial state, will proceed through a well-defined series of successive states, eventually terminating in an end-state.

Everyone is working off the same basic data. Perhaps Google thinks it is foolish to throw away that extra $2 that it costs to make a two-transfer trip on Regional Transit. Perhaps Regional Transit really believes that offering routes with just four minutes between transfers is a realistic option and not just wishful thinking.

For a middle-aged man working on reducing his risk of dementia in his rapidly approaching old age, it's all a mystery.

So far the wife has avoided RT's two-transfer penalty by buying a $5 all-day pass. In three trips using RT's suggested schedule of buses and trains, she has only once had to run to make a connection. Perhaps her beginner's luck will hold.


Gabby said...

I find myself using the Google Transit route planner far more often than the RT one. For me it is far more user friendly and I like to see the map of where I'm going. I just wish yolo buses would put thier info on google maps. Then it would be so much easier for me to plan trips to and from Davis.

I've had the "expecting you to walk too far problem" as well but ofen times you can hit the reverse direction and it will show you what other buses you might be able to use. Also if you zoom into the area you are trying to go you can see all the bus and lightrail stations near there which is incredibly helpful.

I do have this: bookmarked on my phone though so when I can check when the next bus is supposed to come while I'm waiting. Also if someone at the stop I'm at wants to know when their bus is supposed to come by I can look it up for them.

That's the extent that I use the sac rt website. I'm just far more comfortable using google where I can drag and drop my start and end points around and can see on a map the route it wants me to take.

Anonymous said...

but doesnt riding a bus-train-bus still allow a one transfer??

Anonymous said...

and sometimes a bus-train-train-bus......all on the same fare as long as its within the allotted time

John said...

QUOTE: a bus-train-bus still allow a one transfer?

In theory, the transfer from the first bus should still get you on the second bus since there's no way for the driver to know you rode a train. However, the OFFICIAL cost of taking a bus-train-bus trip is $4.25.

My wife's route to and from work is an example: Watt & Whitney, Sacramento, to White Rock Rd. & Prospect Park Dr., Rancho Cordova. shows the fare as $4.25.