Point-to-point navigation

Point-to-point navigation
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First Published: Tue, Mar 09 2010. 09 16 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Mar 09 2010. 09 16 PM IST
Last week, Google India added a service called Transit to its Maps service, providing Delhiites with information about Metro train routes and timings. Ask for directions from one place to another on the site, and Transit factors in public transportation (in this case, only the Metro trains).
It’s the latest addition in a series of interesting evolutions that Maps is going through. A few months ago, Google added directions based on landmarks, a more accurate way of finding your way than the usual “turn left, then second right” school of thought.
But Maps has made little progress in what is perhaps a much more challenging…er, challenge—getting intra-city bus routes online. Even Google’s Map Maker, started to provide dynamic map information to deal with the uncertain beast that is inner city topography, has produced little in this regard, although routes through Greater Noida are now much more detailed thanks to the service.
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But across India, small groups of techies have attempted to grapple with this problem, and attempted to maintain online repositories for public transport information in cities. The need for most of these projects has been felt in part because of the truly horrendous nature of government databases.
The official Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC), Chennai, website (www.mtcbus.org), for example, is a strangely sentient creature that seems to summon information more than merely display it. It’s fairly useful, especially in finding routes between “stages” (government-speak for bus stops), though it does feature wildly optimistic time estimations for the said routes.
Online tracking: Local travelling gets digital help.
The official Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) website, on the other hand, seems to veer between denial about some of its fleet and sparse route information you can gleam by merely looking at the bus in question (http://delhigovt.nic.in).
Chennai has two citizen-powered bus route projects. The Chennai Bus Routes project at http://rab.in autocompletes destinations as you type them in, even offering suggestions on a change of buses. The Chennai Routes Project (http://busroutes.in) features a clickable map, allowing you to choose your starting point and destination. It then brings up a list of buses which travel that route.
The department of computer science and engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, hosts a project called Mumbai Navigator (http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in) that does the same for Mumbai. Click for origin, click destination, and marvel at the remarkably cryptic interface set against a wonderfully garish blue and yellow background. Design foibles aside, the database is remarkably detailed, the option of displaying a particular route on the map is useful, and pressing the “Generate Plan” button has the weight of satisfaction and accomplishment behind it. Really.
In 2008, a firm called Mapunity started a series of city-specific portals for live traffic updates, promising that information on auto fares, public transport and, yes, bus routes would soon be available. The Delhi site (www.dtis.in) seems to confuse the chaotic Capital with some idyllic traffic-free utopia. At peak hour, all traffic indicators were green (for “very little traffic”). Even the Ashram-Nizamuddin stretch was sporting a happy green dot—which even the non-Delhiite would recognize as a vulgar, cruel lie. The Bangalore (www.btis.in) and Hyderabad (www.htis.in) portals, however, seem to be much more accurate, featuring an alarming kaleidoscope of red and orange dots. The Pune portal (www.ptis.in) is eerily silent. Presumably, the city has either no roads or no cars. Or both.
Nevertheless, for city dwellers and unsuspecting visitors, online public transport resources can be a big help. And huge next steps, such as mobile phone accessibility, could make the puzzle of where the “29B/2 FP Exp” bus actually goes easier to solve. Till then ask at least three people. And then double-check.
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First Published: Tue, Mar 09 2010. 09 16 PM IST