Using Android to Navigate Chicago Public Transportation

Using Android to Navigate Chicago Public Transportation

Sep 13, 2012

I recently moved from San Antonio up to the Windy City of Chicago. The changes were numerous: there’s a shortage of good Mexican food but plenty of pizza and Italian beef to go around. Also, instead of having to drive everywhere, I’ve been taking advantage of the robust options for public transit, including the rail and bus systems.

Now, one could easily just stand around at their stop and wait for the next bus or train, that might not be smart for planning a trip. The L trains run frequently, but buses are a crapshoot. Thankfully, with the Chicago Transit Authority’s helpful API for tracking when a bus or train will arrive (thanks to onboard GPS units), apps can make it a lot easier to navigate the city effectively.

Chicago Transit Tracker was the first app I tried at the recommendation of a friend, though several apps have a similar name. This app allows for users to save their preferred routes, and then see the expected arrival times, which update live as the minute timer ticks down. This app allows for particular routes to be created, so for frequently-traveled stops, it’s possible to expand them and see what’s coming. The app alos provides a “closest routes” feature that shows nearby stops, though it only shows one stop for free users.

Transit Tracks is a little more handy for looking up transit info. While it too shows nearby arrival times, it doesn’t have a helpful “billboard” for all recent times. However, it has a list of starred routes that can be saved and accessed when necessary. It can also show all nearby stops in a list, or on a map. It only shows a nearby map, though it would be handy to see maps for other areas when planning trips.

RedEye Chicago may be the app for a local paper, but it too has a basic train and bus tracking functionality. As a bonus, it also has several quickdial numbers for cabs, though Uber works really well for cab service as well.

Amazingly, the most convenient way for figuring out how to get around on transit in Chicago is just Google Maps. Set up the starting point and destination as planned, select routing by transit, and let it do its thing. For discovering new routes, this helps. HopStop is handy for figuring out transit routes as well, and it can navigate by different types of transit. The app works for more than just Chicago, too. The bonus is that it also has quick access to the L map, which really helps with visualizing a train route to take. HopStop’s interface isn’t necessarily as user-friendly as Google Maps is, though.

While I don’t think there’s that one perfect app for getting around on public transportation quite yet, what these apps do is make me feel more confident in getting around a new city. I can effectively plan when I need to leave, and where I can hop on a bus or train to get where I’m going. No need for a car for Carter! Which is just ironic.