After Metro released schedule and route information in GTFS format, I’ve been looking for a good schedule and route finding app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. There are two applications I found that fit the bill, iTransitBuddy (reviewed earlier) and UniBus. If you know of a great iPhone/iPod app that uses GTFS data and meets my needs, please let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look at it.
The bottom line: UniBus is much more feature-rich than iTransitBuddy, but suffers from some similar data quality issues with the WMATA GTFS feed. I give Unibus about 4 out of 5.
The features include being able to search for stop or route names, or using the location service to find stop or stations near your current location. You can designate stop/line/destination sets as “favorites”.
Once you’ve found a stop, you can see the lines that service that stop, and, if you’re connected, display the stop on the map. If more than one bus line services the same stop, this is really convenient because you can scroll through the list to see which one is departing earliest. Unfortunately, the favorites feature doesn’t work for stops, only stop/line/destination combinations (e.g., the combination “Orange Line to Vienna from Ballston” is what you are designating as a favorite). I’ll be suggesting that feature to the author since that’s how many of the lines on my “12-minute” bus map work, where you take one of a number of lines in order to get where you’re going.
You can also search for routes. In this case, many Metrobus (and some Metrorail) routes operate as short turn or tripper bus service, where the bus either ends the route early and turns around, or starts the route mid-way. This design and the way the GTFS data is coded makes the “find route” feature much less usable. For example, searching for “Metrorail Orange Line” gives “Vienna” and “New Carrollton” as possible destinations, as expected. But it’s strange that both “Stadium” and “Stadium Armory” show up (because of turn back service ending there). Even stranger is the fact that “Largo Town Cwnter [sic]” shows up as a destination for the Orange Line (possibly for the few times per year WMATA operates special service?).
It’s great to be able to select stops that are near your current location. The only problem with this feature is that the stops are presented to you as a list, with very similar names. There’s no feature to show these stops on a map until you’ve selected one. There’s also no feature to select a point on a map and then show transit stops near that point. It would be an improvement to list the lines that are near your current location, so if you know your line or destination you could pick that instead and it would show or tell you where the stop is for that line.
When you pick a route, direction and day (today, tomorrow or the next day), all departure times are displayed, even ones that have already departed. For a frequent route like the X2, you may have to scroll through a lot of entries to get to “now”. However, going to your favorites will automatically display the next two vehicles for each favorite, if there’s any service that day.
There are some nice features like a “back” button. On the other hand, UniBus also occasionally crashes, exiting out to the application selection screen without any error message.
Overall, I would say that UniBus is much more useful than iTransitBuddy, but some characteristics of WMATA’s service as well as GTFS data quality issues occasionally create annoying problems. Setting up a good list of favorites helps a lot. Data for other transit agencies that have GTFS feeds is available from within UniBus. UniBus is available through the apps store for $1.99.
Disclosure: the developer of UniBus provided me with a free copy of the application for review purposes, and partially as a “thank you” for GGW’s effort in getting WMATA to release GTFS data (I pointed out to him when the data was made available).