After Metro released its schedule data in Google Transit Feed Specification format, I wanted an iPod/iPhone app that would let me find out quickly how long it would be until the next bus or train. There are a lot of transit apps out there, but not many have bus data or offline caching mode. I downloaded two apps, iTransitBuddy and UniBus (subject of a future review this week).
The bottom line: iTransitBuddy downloads, searches and displays Metrorail and Metrobus schedules. The app has some interface issues, and Metro’s data contains some problems. On the other hand, the “favorites” feature might make this 99¢ purchase worth it. I’d give it 2.5 out of a 5-point scale, with one lost point being Metro’s fault for issues with the schedule data.
For iTransitBuddy, you start by selecting a line, origin and destination.
The stops are listed in alphabetical order by the name that Metro assigned, rather than in order along the line. I found this to be confusing because it’s not always clear what Metro decided to name each stop. Is it “8th Street at Pennsylvania”? No, it’s “Se 8Th St Se D St”. It seems unnecessary to choose your destination, because most of the time you don’t need to know how long the bus will take to get where you’re going, just when the next bus is. Because of the size of the database, searches for the stops on a line take a long time, a step that is required twice because you need to pick origin and destination. The app should be allowed to just show you the next scheduled arrivals at your stop in both directions.
The app only allows you to search for one route at a time, so if there are two or three different possible routes to your destination (like the 90s, Pike Ride, the 30s or even the Metrorail Blue/Orange lines) you must search individually for them to figure out which one is coming first. iTransitBuddy lets you store “Favorites”, which allow you to quickly access an line/origin/destination search. On my iPod Touch (2nd Gen), a search for Metrorail trips from East Falls Church to Eastern Market takes about 11 seconds, and a search for Ballston to East Falls Church takes about the same amount of time. A search for a short bus ride along the 90s line takes about 8 seconds. I don’t know whether the iPod first generation or the iPhone have faster or slower access times. The newly announced iPhone 3rd Generation should be a little faster.
The app displays an unreasonable amount of data, showing arrivals that happen up to 24 hours in the future. This might be so that you can look for trips that happen much later in the day, but I think the interface could be improved to allow later searches, while allowing a “next bus” lookup that happens a lot faster.
Metro’s data appears to be out of date and has some quality issues. The N22 line is still listed, even though the line stopped service in March. The new Woodley Park/McPherson Sq and Union Station/Navy Yard Circulator routes are not listed, and the three older Circulator routes are jumbled together in one big collection that lists every stop. The Mall, 7th Street and K Street lines are all listed under “DC Circulator” in the same list. There seems to be some sort of issue where every trip shows up twice (sometimes with an offset of a couple minutes) in the list of trips for some Metrorail lines.
These issues are unfortunate considering one of the reasons Metro didn’t participate in Google Transit was a concern about Google guaranteeing the information would be accurate and up-to-date. I think that it’s more likely that Metro was unable to produce GTFS data of sufficient quality for Google’s needs, and Metro was forced to punt, publishing the data with a broad disclaimer. I’m going to speculate that the schedule data in Metro’s databases works well enough for Metro, but when they try to use automated processes to extract the data, there must be problems with the export.
iTransitBuddy makes Metro’s scheduling data available, and with the “favorites” feature you can have your favorite bus stop and line data at your fingertips, though you will have to wait a long time to get a too many results. The interface could use some improvements.
With a few tweaks, like listing bus stops geographically, having a “settings” feature to limit search results to at most a couple hours in the future, and being able to combine bus routes or find all bus routes for a stop, iTransitBuddy could be what you’re looking for in a GTFS-searching iPhone or iPod app. There are some interface and data quality problems. On the other hand, it’s a bargain at only $0.99 (for a limited time).