When you’re living with a disability, transportation can be a hassle. For most of us, hopping in the car and driving ourselves wherever we want to go particularly at the last minute is no longer an option. It takes time and effort to coordinate rides, wait for pick-ups, and figure out the best options for you.
After work, I catch the bus. Sometimes the bus is late. A few minutes, not a big deal, but for days with poor weather an extra 10 minutes can be a frustrating experience. I wouldn’t wait in the elements longer than necessary, peering through my monoccular regularly, if I knew where my ride was. On those days I’m jealous of metro riders who benefit from the overhead signs announcing incoming trains to the minute.
A few years ago I puzzled this problem. The Transit app was my solution. After I started using it, the Baltimore transit system allowed their vehicle location signals to be captured real-time by apps like mine. Initially, it seemed great. If the bus I anticipated had a radio signal icon beside it, I knew the app tracked its current location.
For the five years I’ve been a bus rider in Baltimore, I have boarded a slew of different-aged vehicles. The older vehicles are not equipped with tracking technology. It takes money to make these changes and tracking buses is not the highest spending priority for a city like Baltimore. That’s fine. But there was another problem. I would stand patiently at my bus stop, armed with the alert that a bus should appear from the south momentarily. Nope. After a few minutes I would check my phone for the status. As if the bus was a Harry Potter Knight Bus invisible to my muggle eyes, the tracker showed it north of me now. Impossible.
Ghost buses taught me to doubt the app information. This broke my pedestrian heart. The app was easy for me to use and I even loved their clever update notes. We could have been so good together, Transit app. Goodbye.
In February I was wayfinding and saw a radio signal icon within the results on Google Maps. Another day as I packed up my work stuff I plugged in the route to my husband’s office, selecting the bus option. There is was again, the green curved bars telling me something. I zoomed in to read it: on time.
My skeptical self wasn’t sure whether to believe it. Day after day I checked Google Maps before leaving for my bus stop and then comparing the bus arrival time. It kept giving me accurate data. A lot of people use their cell phones on the bus. I guess Google captures rider data. I bet there’s an algorithm for that.
With Google Maps, I’m spending less time waiting for the bus. And, for the icing on the commuter cake, the app’s latest update noted wheelchair accessible routes in select cities. I updated my program and it worked for Baltimore. (Type in your destination, click options and the choice is one of the listed items.) Companies like Google that think beyond abled-body consumers get my attention.
No one likes to be waiting around. Whether you’re living with a disability or not, finding the fastest route with reliable timetables makes traveling easier. Accessible technology makes it better for everyone.
How do you go places? What map apps do you use? Have you experienced transit misinformation or gotten lost? Tell me about it.