Innovative Urban Transportation Apps for 2018
Over the last 10 years, transit-oriented mobile apps have become increasingly sophisticated, offering ever-more ways for users to plot out, order up, share, and pay for a wide variety of transit options.
The following is a run-down of transit apps you should know about in 2018, and a glimpse at what the future will bring.
Among all "map apps," Google is king. Google Maps gives users route-planning options for driving, walking, cycling, public transit, and ride-booking, as well as location-based business searches that will point out the nearest gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants (complete with operating hours, user reviews, and photos). But here are a few other apps to add to your transit app arsenal that excel in ways Google's doesn't.
While the basic navigation capabilities of the app are nothing you haven't already seen, the brilliance of Google-owned Waze – and what makes it singularly effective – is its crowd-sourced traffic data, which provides up-to-the-minute, real-time information of traffic backups due to construction or accidents, road closures not yet seen by Google Maps, dangerous potholes, dicey road conditions, and police speed traps. Whether commuting in a busy city where traffic conditions can change quickly or on a rural long-haul where an unexpected highway closure can mean hours of stand-still traffic, Waze is indispensible.
Most mapping software gives you accurate ETAs based on current traffic conditions if you leave right now. But what if you leave an hour from now instead? Inrix uses a cloud platform called Autointelligent to calculate travel times based on current travel conditions as well as predict future conditions. Even cooler: the app "learns" each driver's behavior and preferences, so each user gets their own customized routes and predictions.
Though not yet popular in the U.S., Sygic's mapping software covers 200 countries, and while the navigation system-styled mapping is familiar, what sets this app apart is its ability to project the navigation screen onto your windshield in darkness.
What's next in route-finding?
Expect to see vehicle-to-infrastructure technology incorporated into your favorite mapping apps, which will include predictive traffic light technology and recommended speeds for maximizing green lights. Australia's VicTraffic is already piloting a test of this technology.
Google Maps integrates local transit data so users can get an overview of their public transit options, but it lacks a level of specificity that is much needed by riders unfamiliar with the transit system. For thorough transit details, try one of these.
Citymapper is available in dozens of major cities all around the world. It's the best app for pulling together extensive data for all transit options, including the best place to board the bus or train nearest to you, what stop to get off, even which door to exit from the subway.
Similar to Citymapper in its ability to pull together transit data and offer step-by-step instructions for everything from bus and rail to ferry and car2go, Transit is available in 140 cities around the world. Its features aren't as extensive as Citymapper's, but it is still a more detailed alternative to Google Maps and much more widely available. It also offers crowd-sourced transit tracking data in cities that do no have real-time transit data.
Available in over 2,000 cities in more than 80 countries, Moovit is the #1 transit app in the world and also utilizes crowd-sourced real-time data. The trade-off? The interface is a bit clunkier and the directions not as dummy-proof.
What's next in public transit?
For a concept that was entirely unheard of a decade ago, ridesharing has become as much a part of our lives as social media and smartphones. Uber is the largest, but there are dozens of other ridesharing companies in the marketplace now catering to their own niche.
Lyft has been nipping at Uber's heels seemingly since day one, and while Lyft's user base and geographic reach are smaller than Uber's, the two companies have definitely been "inspired" by the others' best practices for years. Different classes of vehicles, carpooling, fare splitting, surge pricing, and food delivery are standard to both apps, but where Uber does not solicit tips from riders, Lyft allows tips to be collected through the app.
Developed as an alternative platform that combats violence against women in the rideshare industry, Safr allows women riders to select the gender of their driver, runs an extensive background check on each of their drivers, and includes an "SOS" button in the app.
Created by moms who also have safety in mind, HopSkipDrive is a ridesharing app providing safe, scheduled rides for kids. "CareDrivers" have a minimum of five years of childcare experience, and children are given code words to exchange with their drivers before they get in the vehicle.
What's next in ridesharing?
Hopefully, the end of surge pricing: newer rideshare companies like Curb, Sitbaq, Summon, and Arro make the no-surge-fee promise a cornerstone of their services. Some companies are also promising cheaper fares overall: Gett pays drivers a competitive hourly wage, which also makes rides less expensive, and Fasten charges drivers flat fees per ride which also drives the rider's cost down.
As more and more city-dwellers try to find ways to become relatively car-free, car sharing – which allows users to rent cars for a few hours at a time as needed, or provides an alternative to traditional car rental agencies – is an ever-more appealing option. Zipcar, car2go, Maven, Gig, and others offer short-term car rentals that users can pick up and drop off at a number of designated areas around their city. There is also a growing segment in peer-to-peer car sharing and "fractional ownership."
Think of it as Airbnb for cars: with Turo, car owners rent out their cars to users who choose the exact car they want to rent and whether to pick it up or have it delivered, all for less than the cost of a traditional rental agency. Turo is currently available in over 4,700 cities and 300 airports in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Germany.
Getaround is basically the same service as Turo, but with a much smaller footprint…for now. A new partnership with Uber, Uber Rent, means you can expect this one to grow astronomically in the coming years.
Fractional car ownership exists in the previously unexplored space between renting and owning. If your needs exceed more than just a few hours here and there, but aren't quite as much as full ownership, fractional ownership may be the answer. Carma is a month-to-month car subscription that offers a variety of different makes and models of cars for one monthly fee that also includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance with no downpayment and no term commitment.
What's next in car sharing?
See Uber, above.
The bike share industry is currently undergoing a rapid transformation as traditional programs – typically funded by transit agencies and municipalities – are being outshone by privately-funded "dockless" bike sharing startups, leading to a bit of a turf war.
Dockless bike sharing works the same as traditional "docked" bike shares, with the exception being that you can lock up and leave the bikes anywhere(-ish). Domestic players include JUMP, LimeBike, and Spin, while overseas companies like Mobike and Ofo are aggressively entering the American market.
What's next in bike sharing?
Once again, Uber: the company has acquired JUMP and now allows users to book and pay for JUMP bikes through the Uber app. And in another big leap forward towards the goal of an all-in-one transit app, Transit now includes support for Mobike, LimeBike, JUMP, and Spin.
When you have no choice but to drive yourself, you also have to deal with parking, the largest indirect cost of driving. There are a LOT of parking apps out there that will allow you to find, reserve, pre-pay, and add time for parking, and many also offer discounts for members and advanced booking. SpotHero, ParkMe, Parking Panda, ParkWhiz, and Honk all offer parking location services and in-app payment.
What's next in parking apps?
Going carless to avoid this nonsense.
A version of this article was originally published on Dec 3, 2012. It was updated on April 18, 2018.
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