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Google Stumbles on Chicago Area Transit

By Shannon in Miscellaneous on Feb 15, 2007 8:00PM

downtown mishmashLike millions of other digerati across the globe, Chicagoist gives mighty props to Google. The folks at Google constantly amaze us by what they come up with next, including but not limited to Google Earth, patent searches (new!) and spreadsheets. (Trust us, it’s a big deal for those of us who refuse to install MS Office Resourcegobbler at home.) We’re also extremely attached to Google Maps, forsaking all our old tools in favor of being able to drag maps around easily with an option for real satellite views. So, imagine our delight when we discovered that Maps is now featuring CTA and Metra stations on local searches.

In theory.

In reality, Google’s Chicago transit handling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. CTA stops are labeled on the map, but all stations are a blue “M” with no regard to their corresponding lines. Indicators of stations with transfer possibilities are noticeably absent; nor can you use Maps to search for specific stations. There’s no indication of where the tracks are either, fostering more confusion for newcomers and tourists. Metra stations fare a little better, with no-frills black labels and a little train icon, but still no tracks. We understand that if you really need some train info, you should head to the appropriate site, but why should Amtrak be the only lines that get actual track representation on Internet maps?

The inconsistencies don’t end there. Google’s first public transport experiment focused on Portland, OR in 2005, taking advantage of their technologically advanced system. They implemented an off-the-cuff trip planner in the city, much like the CTA’s trip planner but more intuitive and less goofy (we assume; it’s hard to get goofier than some of the routes it churns out). Later they added five more cities to their planning. Yet, from what we could see, none of those cities (including Seattle, Pittsburgh and Tampa) have stations identified. Wouldn’t that have been the next logical step, instead of implementing stations in cities that don’t yet have plans? We scoped out New York, a planner-less city, on a whim and found the same deal as Chicago: All MTA stations are also indistinguishable blue “M”s. Just picture the confusion there. And what's the "M" even stand for, anyway?

We understand it’s early in Google’s decision to plot local transit. Ourselves, we would have been content to wait until transit planning came to our fair city for stations to show up. After all, we use the CTA’s site to locate stations and get directions almost as much as Maps. As far as getting Google to reconnize one of the largest public transport systems in the US and feed us a planner of our own, their help section says it all: “…[I]f you'd like your area included, contact your public transportation agency and let them know about Google Transit.” In other words, right after the Cubs win the Series and Satan starts strutting around in a parka.