Earlier this week, Techcrunch reported that Moovit, a public transportation service, has revamped and relaunched its app. As a big fan of Citymapper, one of its competitors, I wanted to see how an already really good product could be improved.
Right off the bat, Moovit is beautifully designed and doesn’t introduce new forms of UI, which I appreciate. Sometimes it’s nice to open a new app and have the flow be instantly familiar. There’s also some “general” information about local public transportation, which doesn’t have to do with planning a route. Yet, it’s the route planning that I use the most, and comparing that part of Moovit to Citymapper was my first task.
Both apps do a good job at finding routes at figuring out and presenting route options. I asked to go from my location to AT&T Park in San Francisco and to be there at 6pm, when the Giants game starts. Citymapper wins this round.
First, it presents more options, including walking, biking, and getting a cab/Uber. This may be less useful to get from Palo Alto to San Francisco, but necessary in a city where walking can be a good alternative to public transportation. Citymapper showed six suggested routes, two rail only and two rail/Uber combos, while Moovit showed three suggested route and one bus only. Again, probably more useful to have more suggestions in a city with multiple public transportation options, such as New York, than the Bay Area, where we have one rail line.
Second, Citymapper has laid out the route data better, including more information in less horizontal space, which allows for more options to be shown on the screen at once. It’s an interesting lesson in UI to note what information each app has decided to present and how to present that information visually. Moovit emphasizes travel time, and makes it easy to see which option requires more walking, but makes it hard to figure out when to leave. Citymapper has travel time, time to leave, and the cost of each option. I choose routes based on travel times, and I appreciate seeing more options on the same screen, without scrolling, before making my selection. It would help if both stated the travel time in a hours:minute format as opposed to just minutes, but that’s just my preference.
The one feature I liked on Moovit that Citymapper doesn’t offer is to plan a route for the “last lines for today” which is useful when public transport ends early (according to Moovit, to come back from AT&T Park today, I’d have to leave at 8:07pm.) Moovit also offers route options such as “least walking” and “least transfers” which are great, but are on another screen. I’ve used Citymapper when it was raining when it automatically added “rainsafe” routes in the main route selection screen. Again, faster route choice is always appreciated.
So, in cities where both operate, I’d choose Citymapper, but on my last trip, to Berlin and Tel Aviv, Citymapper only had maps available for the former. Citymapper covers 37 cities, while Moovit claims to have 1,200! If it has in any way made it easier for local public transportation authorities to interface with it, that is a huge advantage.
What I am really intrigued by is Moovit’s attempt to use crowdsourcing in addition to official sources to provide routes and other information to its users. Intrigued because despite my love for Citymapper, it has failed me two times, both in New York. The first was having me walk 10 minutes to a Subway station (and to climb three flights of stairs) only to find that it was closed for renovations. The second was directing me to a station that was flooded by a burst pipe, with trains shunted to alternate tracks and not stopping. In both incidents Citymapper had no idea there was a problem and I ended up wasting a lot of time finding alternate routes.
By allowing users to report problems, users can avoid certain stations, and lower everyone’s stress levels. I didn’t want to actually report a problem but it looks like Moovit has made it easy by choosing a line or station on my chosen route and then letting me choose what type of problem to report like crowdedness, an incident, cleanliness, and so on.
Techcrunch ended its post by questioning Moovit’s necessity as a standalone app quoting its VP of Product: “Meydad’s hope is that by distilling the service into a few key experiences and making them easily accessible, Moovit will provide some kind of differentiated experience from Google Maps that merits being a completely separate app.” I don’t doubt for a second that a standalone app is necessary. Anyone who has traveled to an unfamiliar city and just wants to get from one point to another quickly and efficiently needs a public transport app. Using Citymapper on my last two trips completely changed my experience for the better: instead of taking cabs because I didn’t want to open a map, I could take a quick look at an app that instantly gave me the best route. Google Maps takes more time just to come up with less options and less route detail. Having a dedicated app is definitely the way to go.