Ben Franklin Transit on Google Maps

It’s finally arrived!

Now anyone can use Google Maps to find the directions from any point in the Tri-Cities to any other point by using Ben Franklin Transit.

As far as I know, Ben Franklin Transit hired an outside firm to do this work for them, and so far through early testing, I’d say they did a pretty good job.

For a test, I decided to ask it to route me from the Wal-Mart in Richland to the Wal-Mart in Kennewick. On a Saturday.

I’d say it works!

What I like it how it doesn’t just show you what way you’re going to be travelling, but also gives you the steps and fare information and everything else.

As you can see, the trip planner lets you know that you’ll be boarding the 39H to Three Rivers (instead of to Knight Street). This is a good start right off the bat, as it eliminates the potential confusion caused by having 2 different buses labeled as Route 39 at the Richland Wal-Mart during that time.

Another thing of interest to note is that it tells you how long the bus will take to travel from Point A to Point B on each segment, as well as shows the exact number of stops along the way.

Perhaps the neatest thing though is that little notation about staying on the bus when it switches to Route 47 at Dayton Street. Most regular riders are aware of the buses doing this, but to a new rider or infrequent rider, this makes a huge difference. I’ve seen it time and time again where people will get off the bus at a transit center, unaware that it’s switched to the route that they’re actually looking for. (In more technical terms, this is sometimes called “through-routing.”)

Something that Google Maps has done for a long time with it’s transit planner is show the fare that the trip will cost the rider along with the estimated cost that it would take if the rider were to drive a car instead. It’s a pretty powerful tool, and I’m glad to see that it continues to be used by Google Maps. (I’ve heard rumors that there have been cases where a particular transit agency has asked to have that feature removed, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual cases of this.)

The only thing I found wrong with the trip planner was at the end of this example trip.

I can’t imagine that it would be very safe to try to walk to Wal-Mart along the shoulder of Highway 395…

However, by simply dragging the Point B marker onto the east side of the highway, it solved this problem. It’s hard to say why trip planner did this, but at this point I believe it was due to Google Maps data about the location of where the Wal-Mart is exactly and the program’s inability to tell the difference between highways with no sidewalks and streets that do have sidewalks for pedestrian access.

I’ll be spending the rest of the weekend checking out all the little details in trip planner, but in this first glance, I’d have to say that Ben Franklin Transit has an amazing tool in it’s hands now. With plenty of promotion, this will be used by all sorts of riders, and theoretically can help boost ridership by winning over new riders to the benefits of riding the bus.


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