Deciphering your transit agency’s schedule, posted on faded paper at the bus stop, is both difficult and futile: even if you decipher its Java Code-esque contents, the bus probably isn’t adhering exactly to the schedule, anyway.
Luckily, we live in an age where data scientists and designers try to solve these problems. The result is gorgeous transit navigation apps.
In 2015 we published an article recommending the best apps for riders. Things have changed a lot since then, so we updated our recommendations (based on a very intense Excel spreadsheet comparing their different features).
Using these apps is super easy: the apps use your location to give you real-time arrival information for nearby public transportation services (and even docked and dockless bikeshare, ride-hailing like Uber and Lyft, and car rentals like car2go). If you need directions, they can route your trip.
You can’t go wrong with any of these apps: all three of them work in most major cities and let you access real-time arrival information on the home screens without inputting a destination, unlike Google Maps or Apple Maps.
All three also let you view entire route information laid over a map. This means that you can see the entire length of a bus route and where each bus is in real-time (except with Moovit, which won’t show you the buses in real-time on this feature).
However, the idiosyncracies between the apps mean that some work better for different uses.
For exploring: Citymapper
When you open Citymapper, you can press on a bus stop near you on the map and see real-time arrival information immediately. That’s why we recommend it to explorers: when you don’t know where you are, it’s easiest to just press on a nearby bus stop and get information fast, without having to first figure out where exactly that bus stop is.
This is why my best friend is a devout user: when I noticed her using it, she said that Citymapper “has honestly changed my life.” This is coming from a woman who once took an Uber home when she was only one block away from a Metro station (serving the same line we lived on) during rush hour.
In addition, Citymapper lets you compare your trip options not just by time, but cost too.
For commuting: Transit
As soon as you open Transit (formerly known as Transit App), you’re presented with real-time information for every nearby public transportation service. This is why it’s best for commuters: you already know where you’re going, so all you need is the real-time arrival transit information.
For no-frills: Moovit
Moovit is divided into three simple categories: directions, stations, and lines. This lets you route your trip or search for real-time arrival information at any bus stop or train station in your city.
If you’re a world traveler and only have space on your phone for one app, Moovit is your best bet: the app works in over 2,000 cities around the world.
Note: At this time only Citymapper and Transit include dockless bikeshare and scooters.
Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab.