Public Transit Planning For London and New York With Citymapper

London has one of the most extensive public transport systems in the world. It’s also one of the most archaic and the myriad of different connecting stations for its Underground service and variety transportation methods, from bus to boat, can perplex even the most experienced commuter.

Having been a daily user of many of the London transport apps available for a number of years, I find myself asking the question “does the App Store need yet another public transport app?” Cityplanner (available for both London and New York public transport services) seems to think so and, after using it for some time, the answer seems to be yes.

Not All Apps Are Created Equal

Transport for London (TfL) have long made their public transport information accessible to developers, so there’s never been a shortage of commuting apps. These apps, however, all tend to look and feel exactly the same. As TfL provide the same level of access to route planning, Tube status and bus timetables, many of the apps on the App Store all do exactly the same thing. It’s this indifference that makes it hard to find a really good app since many of them don’t offer any standout features.

The Interface

As soon as you launch Citymapper, you can see it’s not like other route planning apps. The interface isn’t the traditional table-view-over-pinstripe that many alternative apps seem to stubbornly use, its interface looking at home on both iOS 6 and iOS 7.

Citymapper's interface looks great in both iOS 6 and iOS 7.

Citymapper’s interface looks great in both iOS 6 and iOS 7.

A small sliver of a map with your location pinpointed sits across the upper area of the app. You can enlarge it by double-tapping which is how you’ll usually want to view the map as it’s of very little use unless you enlarge it, providing too little information to clearly see what’s around you or even where you are.

Transport Links

The enlarged map reveals some useful information such as the area you can cover in a 5 or 15 minute walk as well as your approximate location and current weather conditions.

The icons across the top provide quick access to local stations and transport stops, including London’s public bicycle hire service, useful if you know there’s a bus stop or Tube station around here somewhere. Pressing any of them will enlarge the map and display all of the nearby transportation links.

Underground and Rail

Back on the main screen, you’re also provided with an offline tube map which many other apps still don’t include. Despite the majority of tube stations in London having Wi-Fi hotspots available, it’s not free for everyone and there’s no Wi-Fi on the train carriages themselves so having a map you can refer to is crucial when you’re navigating the city, especially with a smartphone.

Citymapper features extensive Underground and Rail information.

Citymapper features extensive Underground and Rail information.

London’s tube network experiences delays, closures and other hiccups on a daily basis. Like many other apps, Citymapper features Line Status information for now and this weekend. Citymapper takes this a step further by providing details of the nearest tube station for each of the many Underground lines beneath the streets of London.

Tapping on any of the tube lines will reveal a full list of stations. You can view the current arrival time of the next trains to arrive by drilling down into the appropriate station.

Rail works in a similar way, providing destination and platform information. Unlike the Underground, a local train station could have trains coming and going to almost anywhere so a handy search function is included to make sure you don’t end up in the wrong part of the country.

Bus and Cycle

In much the same way as Tube information is presented, Citymapper will also provide you with timetable and stop location information for London’s extensive bus network. A really useful feature of the bus stop information is that a small arrow is included, denoting the direction that the bus is travelling. If you’ve ever got on the bus in the wrong direction, you’ll thank your lucky stars Citymapper does this.

Keeping track of local buses, stops and even cycle hire is easy to do.

Keeping track of local buses, stops and even cycle hire is easy to do.

London has a small but popular cycle hire service that’s also managed by TfL, meaning transport apps can provide you with appropriate information. Citymapper gives you information regarding any cycle dock nearby, how many bicycles are available and if there’s a space to drop off a bicycle you’ve already hired.

Route Planning

So far, many of the features of Citymapper are already included in other transport apps and although they’re a little more refined, there’s not much that distinguishes this app from the rest of the pack.

Perhaps where Citymapper comes into its own is with its frankly brilliant route planning. Entering a destination gives you an aerial overview, showing you a birds-eye distance between where you are and where you want to be. The magic happens as soon as you tap Get Route.

The app comes alive with a lot of genuinely useful information that will make you surprised it hasn’t already been thought of.

A lot of thought has gone into the route planning function of Citymapper with some novel ideas such as "rain-safe" routes, helping you avoid downpours.

A lot of thought has gone into the route planning function of Citymapper with some novel ideas such as “rain-safe” routes, helping you avoid downpours.

You’re presented with current weather information at the destination so you know if you need to take an umbrella. You’ll be told how long it would take if you’d like to walk or cycle as well as how many calories it would burn, useful for anyone wanting to burn off a few pounds. For the high rollers, taxi information with approximate time and cost is also displayed and you can even find a private cab quote, though there’s no way to book within the app.

Citymapper will suggest a number of routes with varying times and displays how many changes you’ll need to make. For the occasional user or infrequent commuter, you’re even given the fare information so you know exactly how much you’ll need on your Oyster card before you even set foot outside.

With a route started, Citymapper breaks it down into list, detailing any changes and the estimated time between each one.

With a route started, Citymapper breaks it down into list, detailing any changes and the estimated time between each one.

Not a fan of the Tube? Citymapper also provides a bus-only option for those of us who’d rather avoid the hustle and bustle of London’s tube stations. Buses are also usually cheaper but can be a much longer journey. Citymapper leaves that choice to you.

My favourite feature of Citymapper’s route planning is it’s Rain Safe option. Since it rains almost every other day in London, Citymapper provides a route that involves the least amount of time walking or outdoors. It may mean an extra cost or longer journey but it will keep you dry!

Your chosen route will be displayed in both map and list form and any tube delays or status updates will be displayed here as well. You can even email the route to someone who doesn’t have Citymapper so it can make meeting a friend or colleague from out of town that little bit easier.

Frequent destinations can be saved, along with your home or work, providing a one-tap route via the app’s main page.

Conclusion

Citymapper is currently the best London public transport app for the iPhone by quite a margin. You can tell that the main purpose of Citymapper was to provide an app that was designed from a commuter’s point of view. It uses the same raw data from TfL as many of the other apps, yet it is able to squeeze much more information from it than anything else in the App Store, using additional information that commuters find useful, such as weather reports.

The rain-safe option for routes is a inspired feature. Many times I’ve travelled home and worked out a route that meant I could avoid the downpour outside and really shows how much the developers know about commuting.

Citymapper is available for both London and New York and if you live in either of these cities then this app should be on page one of your home screen.


Summary

An exceptional app that has been meticulously created to provide a great user experience for commuters. Available for free for both London and New York's public transportation systems, it's the best public transit app I've ever used.

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