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TransLink Improves Trip Planner -- Just in Time for Olympic Crowds and Road Closures

Good news for those of us who rely on public transit in metro Vancouver; TransLink has upgraded its Trip Planner web application.

Before TransLink upgraded the application, Trip Planner was useful but sometimes aggravating. The way it was supposed to work, you entered your start point and end point (with options for time of arrival or departure, shortest time or least number of transfers), hit enter and presto! the application would tell you how to get to where you’re going.

But it had its annoyances. Enter “Street” instead of “St” and it would get confused. Enter an address such as 985 Fake Street, Vancouver, and it would reply, “do you mean 985 Flakey Street, New Westminster or 985 Fake Street, Vancouver?” Even when there was only one choice, the app would ask you whether that address was the one you wanted.

But kudos to TransLink. They knew the application, though useful, could be improved. In 2007 TransLink became the first Canadian transit authority to partner with Google’s Transit service, which provides a similar service. And though they could have then discontinued their own application and replaced it with a link to Google Transit, TransLink worked on improving Trip Planner. The revised Trip Planner was unveiled in late December, just in time for the Olympics. It's a marked improvement over the previous version (TransLink still provides a link on its homepage to Google Transit, so you have a choice.)

The new version allows you to enter your starting and ending points right on the TransLink homepage. Besides the expected choices of street addresses and transit stations, you can also enter well-known landmarks such as schools, hospitals, libraries, shopping centres and tourist attractions.  And, for the next month and a half, you can get transit directions to specific Olympic venues as well.

Google Transit still has advantages over Trip Planner. Because Google Transit is integrated with Google Maps’ extensive database, you see a street map of your route, and the estimated travel time includes the time needed to walk to your initial stop and from the final stop to your actual destination. Also, if you decide to get there by some other means, with Google Transit you can quickly change to walking or driving directions -- which allowed me to discover that if I wanted to walk to the SFU Surrey campus at Central City in Surrey from the West End, it would take me 6 hours and five minutes (assuming I didn’t stop for a coffee or succumb to exhaust fumes and exhaustion en route). Google Transit can also be used on smart phones, such as the iPhone. The TransLink iPhone app, though useful for telling you the nearest bus stop, doesn’t include Trip Planner. However, Trip Planner has its advantages as well -- for one thing, because it's run by TransLink, it is more up-to-date with system changes and delays.

TransLink is embracing technology in other ways. Their main Twitter account (translink) provides timely information on what’s going on with the transit system. When SkyTrain suffered a serious disruption on January 11, frequent tweets on the system’s status and recommendations for affected passengers greatly eased the burden. And if you’re standing at a stop, wondering when the next bus is going to come along, just text the stop’s five-digit number to 33333 and you’ll get a quick text in return with the due time for the next six buses.

But, enough for now. According to Trip Planner I have to leave in five minutes if I want to get home by 7 p.m. tonight. No delays reported according to the TransLink iPhone app, so I’m on my way.

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