HopStop: Get Around Town on Public Transit

With summer just around the corner, we can all look forward to getting out of the house a bit more. Unfortunately, gas prices tend to jump up this time of year, so getting around town will start to become much more expensive. At times like this, those of us who would like to avoid those high gas prices, (or simply don’t own a car), turn to public transit.

There are are a number of apps that can help you navigate public transit in a specific city. For example, New Yorkers have a number of great options for understanding the subway routes. But I’ve been looking for a solid, well-rounded public transit mapping app for the iPhone that can work anywhere. I recently came across HopStop, and have been using it for a couple weeks. My thoughts after the jump.

The Basics

HopStop is a navigation app that is catered to public transit riders. The app offers you the choice of selecting directions based on a specific mode of transportation, including subways, busses, and taxis, as well as walking directions. Once you enter your starting point and your final destination, HopStop will give you step-by-step directions on how to get there.

Getting Started

You begin by entering your starting location. You can enter a specific address, choose from your list of contacts, or just use your current location. Likewise, you select your destination.

After the load screen, you'll be presented with a place to enter your starting and ending points.

After the load screen, you'll be presented with a place to enter your starting and ending points.

You get a few options for mode of transportation, as I mentioned earlier. Additionally, you can let the app know how much you feel like walking. This choice is simply broken down as “More walking” or “Less walking,” with no sliding scale. Your choice here will impact the number of transfers that the given route will have. Lastly, these settings allow you turn regional rail on and off, as well as indicate whether or not you can use private vehicles.

Next you will tell the app when you want to leave. Since it gets schedule info for when the next bus or train will be leaving, it uses this information to plot your route and give you estimates on how long the trip will take. By default this is set to “Now.”

Interface

Now that you have entered your route information, HopStop will give you some directions. At the top of the screen you are given some basic details about the route, including the distance, the trip duration, and estimated arrival. Plus, you’ll see some information to help keep you motivated to continue taking advantage of public transit. HopStop shows you how many calories you’ll burn walking to the and from stops, as well as how much CO2 you saved. The calories burned figures seemed accurate, (although that is highly variable based on speed, terrain, etc.). The CO2 figure is likely going to be more controversial, because of varying fuel economies of different car models.

The directions are laid out with careful attention to detail, perhaps to an superfluous degree. I say this because on a roughly one mile stretch of one bus route, it listed every single stop that my bus would pass. It would be nice to be able to ignore stops you don’t need and just give the one where you get off, because it leads to unnecessary clutter.

Left: Selecting modes of transportation. Right: Directions window.

Left: Selecting modes of transportation. Right: Directions window.

Scrolling past the end of the directions gives you maps for the walking portions of your trip. That means it shows you how to walk to your bus stop or train station where the trip begins, and then again from where you get off to your final destination. Unfortunately, touching these maps does not let you zoom in or out, nor does it let you open the maps in another app.

There are banner ads at the bottom of most screens that generally don’t get in the way. However, there are also sponsored ads built into the app that are a bit more intrusive. These are listed as businesses that are “nearby,” but these tend to be useless. It would be nice to see a feature that lets you see user-selected searches about what’s nearby, such as a place to get something to eat along the way.

Other Features

You can share routes by either text or email. Sharing by email will cut and paste all of the directions into the body of your message. The text message sharing sends a link to the HopStop’s mobile-optimized site with the directions as you see them on your iPhone. I found both of these sharing options to work well.

Left: Sharing your route via email or text message is very easy. Right: You can save your routes for future use.

Left: Sharing your route via email or text message is very easy. Right: You can save your routes for future use.

HopStop also lets you save your routes for later viewing. Opening these routes is easy, as there is a dedicated button to bring them up at the bottom of the app.

Speaking of the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, you will also find a button labeled “Transit Map.” Sadly, HopStop only has a New York City map, so if you live elsewhere, you’re out of luck as far as transit maps are concerned.

Left: A transit map for a whole city is only available for NYC. Right: The maps for your directions aren't pinch and zoom. Instead, they use arrows, (which is frustrating).

Left: A transit map for a whole city is only available for NYC. Right: The maps for your directions aren't pinch and zoom. Instead, they use arrows, (which is frustrating).

Lastly, there is a button labeled “Street Map” that lets you jump to an address on the app’s map. Again, you can manually enter the address, bring up your contacts, or choose your current location. This feature would be great if it could give you some context, in the same way that local discovery apps show you businesses nearby based on your search criteria, rather that just show sponsored ads.

Conclusion

I used this app for about a week, and was generally underwhelmed by its features. It is really appealing to see an app that promotes its ability to give you detailed navigation using only public transportation, but HopStop doesn’t execute the concept very well. The directions it gives include too much unnecessary information and in a visually unappealing format. For a free app, I was willing to put up with banner ads, but the amount that HopStop throws at you ruins the experience.

Keep in mind that your stock iPhone Maps app gives you car directions by default, but that you can also get bus and walking directions from it. I will be sticking to that app for now because of the easier, ad-free navigation and the clearer directions. I wouldn’t recommend HopStop unless you are desperate to try a new navigation app. At this point, I’ve found plenty of great apps that are city-specific, but am still searching for the perfect public transportation navigation app with nation-wide flexibility.

What About You?

What are some of your favorite navigation apps for using public transit?


Summary

A navigation tool that specializes in getting you around town using only public transportation.

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