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Transit: An Easier Way to Navigate Public Transportation

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Smartphones have become essential to navigate unfamiliar places. Thanks to global positioning systems (GPS), getting to a destination without getting lost is easy.

But you don’t just need to see where you’re going, you need to see how to get there. In cities with multiple modes of travel, travelers complain that it’s hard to find a navigation app that includes all the options.

Montreal-based Transit offers a solution. They’ve created an app to make public transportation easier to navigate in the U.S. and Canada and a few places farther afield, and they’ve included Uber, car share and even bike share.

Lauren Heller, Transit’s Director of Communications, spoke with RewardExpert about making it less stressful to get where you want to go whether you’re exploring a new city or just surviving your daily commute.

Founding of Transit

The idea for Transit was hatched during a long wait at a bus stop. Co-founder and CEO Sam Vermette lamented the fact he had no idea when the bus would come. He asked himself, “If cell phones have GPS on them, then why can’t the buses have it, too?”

transit app
The Transit app can help you navigate local transportation when traveling

Now in many cities they do, and that’s been a big factor in the expansion of this relatively recent entry to the navigation app market. After starting Transit in 2013, Vermette and his co-founder and CTO Guillaume Campagna have seen tremendous growth. The app has more than one million users and covers 125 cities, mostly in North America, but also in Europe and Australia.

The app has won love from cities that it serves. Toronto named Transit the best transit app. Also, Boston’s transportation authority, MBTA, awarded a prize to Transit and is partnering with the company to make the commute better for Bostonians.

How Transit Works

Transit’s staff are evangelists about public transportation, even with its irritations and problems.

“A lot of people think public transit is evil and will drive, but there are so many options now,” Heller says. “Not only do you save a lot of aggravation, but its simpler and cheaper by using public transit in conjunction with shared bikes and cars.”

What’s special about Transit is it simplifies city travel by managing the various modes of travel — bus, train, bike share and even Uber — and shows you all your options in an easy to understand interface. And then it keeps you on track throughout the trip.

See all of the transport options on your smartphone

Transit’s Go feature gives users real-time information, so they don’t miss the bus or train. For example, the app alerts someone to leave their house to catch a bus or to hurry up because they might miss their train.“Go offers step-by-step navigation…you can relax on the bus,” she says. “The app tells you when your bus stop is coming.”

While public transit is sometimes unreliable, Heller says that Transit has you covered: “If you get lost or detoured, it will tell you an alternate plan.”

Transit works while a commuter is underground or loses a phone signal because it stores the schedules offline, says Heller, so “when you are in a tunnel and you can’t get real time, the app will give you the scheduled arrival time.”

What’s ahead for Transit

Of course, Transit has to rely on the information that agencies provide. In many cities, transit agencies don’t provide real-time data, which limits the usefulness of any urban navigation app.

“Data comes from the transit agencies, so the app is only as good as their data,” Heller says. “Users say, ‘Your app is so awesome. If only you were in control of the public transit system.’” However she adds that the existing data is already very good in some places. “Some cities are incredibly accurate. Users can just launch Go and not think about what they are doing.”

Heller says that Transit is working on a project to address the lack of real-time data availability in some cities.

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