AMI This Week Presenter Grant Hardy discusses how he uses the accessible public transportation app during his commutes in Vancouver.
My iPhone isn’t permanently attached to my body, but sometimes it feels that way!
As a technology lover with no vision, it’s great how much information I have access to, right from the palm of my hand. It might be emailing someone across the country or grooving along to music on the train. But sometimes it’s not just about tuning out the world.
Often, it’s my equivalent of looking over my shoulder—as the phone lets me know what’s going on around me.
One great iPhone app I use on a daily basis is Moovit, which we demonstrated on AMI This Week. I’d like to take a more in-depth look at how I use this accessible app to get real time transit directions as a transit rider with no vision.
Moovit is available for iOS and Android, and should be accessible on both platforms. In this article I’ll focus on the iOS version of Moovit.
Is the Bus Coming?
Transit apps are a dime a dozen on the App Store, but what’s great about Moovit is the effort they’ve put into making real-time transit directions accessible. It may not be quite as good as looking over your shoulder, but it comes pretty close.
You can find this info in several ways. If you explore Moovit’s home screen, near the centre you’ll find a list of nearby transit stops and upcoming departure times for the closest stop.
To find departure times for other stations around you or to view the complete schedule for a station, you need to tap on the station to drill down into its schedule. Of course, for blind users with VoiceOver, that would be a double-tap gesture.
Likewise, you can tap on any line to drill down into its complete route. This shows an interactive version of the schedule for the line you selected including everywhere it stops. Tapping on a stop shows the next arrival times for that line. You might hear something like “line 103, scheduled for 4:30 PM, arrives in two minutes.”
You can use this info in many different ways. If you’re on a bus and you need to make a really quick transfer, seeing an estimate of how long it will be before your connecting bus arrives can be super helpful.
You can ask your driver whether he or she sees the other bus, as sometimes they can help alert the other driver that someone is trying to make a transfer. You might have multiple choices for bus connections and connecting stops, in which case you can revise your trip based on the info from Moovit.
Lastly, if lines are arriving very close to each other, one bus might pull ahead of the stop, or linger behind. If you can’t see, you could miss it. Knowing that the line you want should arrive at any moment, you’ll know to pay extra attention—even if it means asking someone to keep a lookout for you.
Bus Schedules and Routes
At the top of the home screen is the search button. From the search screen, you can choose between lines (like C23) and locations (like Main Street Station). At that point, you can begin typing and suggestions will immediately start appearing below the search box.
If searching for a location, you can tap on a result to open the trip planner with the place set as your destination. If you want, you can change the starting location, date/time, and other route options as all the controls are accessible.
If searching for a line, you’ll be taken to the schedule for that line. If you don’t type anything at all, you can even explore the screen to find recent searches, or the complete list of lines and stations in your metro area.
Of course, there are probably places you routinely want to go to. During the week, I commute to and from work on a daily basis; while on Saturdays, I commute to and from dragon boating practice. It would be silly if I had to specify these same locations over and over again in my transit app. Luckily, Moovit provides several ways to give me quick access to these frequent locations.
One way is the favourites screen. It is multipurpose and can therefore seem a bit bewildering at first. It provides shortcuts to home and work, as well as other locations you’ve marked. It also shows all the bus stops you’ve bookmarked.
You can choose which lines appear for a given stop, but I’d love the option of hiding stops that are nowhere near you. In my opinion, that would make the favourites screen a little less bewildering. In any case, tapping on a location opens the trip planner with the destination already set.
There are other ways to plan routes, too. If you own an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus, pressing the Moovit icon very firmly while on the home screen will bring up a menu from which you can get directions to work or home from your current location. This is by far my preferred way of quickly planning a route. As a tip – you don’t have to use your real work or home address. For example, I’ve set my work address to a spot right by the bus stop I normally use, to make sure I get the bus routes I want.
One of Moovit’s best features is the ability to follow you along as you’re on the bus and alert you with audio and vibration patterns when it’s time to get off. This works even if you’re grooving along to music or an audiobook. Of course, this is a great cue if you’re afraid you might miss your stop, or don’t have access to audible stop announcements.
These features can be used in two ways. While viewing a route, select the “start live directions” button to begin the route. You’ll now be on a very simple page detailing the current “step” of your route, whether step-by-step walking directions to the bus stop, or info about how many stops to ride on the train.
There is a control at the bottom which allows you to move between pages to see other steps. You don’t have to keep this screen open and can even switch to another app if you want. When your line is arriving or when you’re approaching your stop, you’ll receive audible and vibration alerts so you can keep track of where you are.
What’s Your ETA?
I can’t tell you how many times someone’s meeting me at a transit stop and asks “what’s your ETA”? With Moovit, I can open the app at any time to hear exactly how long the ride is expected to take. I’ve noticed Moovit can be thrown off if your bus is running too far ahead or behind, though. As they say, it’s an “exact estimate,” but it’s pretty great to be able to have a realistic ETA to give out.
Nothing substitutes for mobility skills, and it’s always important to pay attention to the environment while you’re out and about.
But there’s no doubt that Moovit is a great high-tech solution for making your commute just a little easier. Moovit can be found in the App Store or Google Play, and is free.
If you’re a frequent transit rider, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Now if only Moovit could actually make the bus come faster—oh well, maybe in the next update.