Whether you're trying to shave a few minutes off your daily commute or visiting a new city and want to use public transportation to get around, the best transit apps can help you plan your trip usingmore
Whether you're trying to shave a few minutes off your daily commute or visiting a new city and want to use public transportation to get around, the best transit apps can help you plan your trip using a variety of transportation options, from buses and subways to streetcars and ferries.
In many ways, public-transit apps work the same way: Set your current location, pick your destination, choose your mode of transport, check the schedule, and tap Go. The app then gives you step-by-step instructions for your journey, including travel times and number of stops, if you're on a transit bus or train. Some will also alert you when you need to make a transfer.
While all our choices are useful for planning a trip, some struggle to adjust if you make a change mid-trip, such as exiting a bus a few stops early, or trying to map a trip after you've departed.
While each of our picks is a solid choice for your city -- as long as the app covers your transit systems -- some of the apps seem to do a better job in the major cities. Here in the Bay Area, the iOS app Routsey has a lot of fans.
We checked local city blogs and Reddit threads to get a sense for best apps for the major public-transit regions.
In Boston, for example, the Transit app has the seal of approval of the MBTA. Transit is also popular in Chicago, but you can find fans of the CTA transits apps. Citymapper is recommended for New York City. In Washington, D.C., commuters like Citymapper, too, but recommend DC Metro & Bus as a second choice. Philadelphians also like Citymapper but suggest the SEPTA app as well. Atlanta residents also like their home-grown app, SEPTA, for managing their trips. Los Angeles commuters look to Citymapper and Google Maps.
And for Miamians feed up with their transit system, the answer seems to be Uber or Lyft.
If you missed your connection or can't be bothered figuring a transit schedule, our picks all let you request a ride-sharing car from within the app. In Citymapper, for example, expand the card that displays your transit systems, and then tap the Uber or Lyft icon to book a ride.
If you want an all-in-one app for planning your public transit and car trips.
Google Maps is not just for turn-by-turn directions. It can help you plan your public transportation trip, too. Pick your destination, tap Directions, and then tap the Transit tab to see train lines and bus routes to where you want to go. Google Maps gives you many choices: You can choose your departure time, if you want to go the fastest route, or your preferred means of public transportation; you can even just use the app to schedule a ride with Uber or Lyft. And the app shows live departure times, if available. On the downside, it doesn't adjust its travel times well to traffic or if your route changes. The service is far reaching and spans continents, countries, regions, and cities. In California, for example, it covers more than 130 regional and city transit services.
It covers 40 or so cities, but if you live in one it tracks, check out Citymapper.
Citymapper pulls real-time data from various mapping, transit, and crowd-sourced services to chart your quickest public transportation route. You can set locations for spots you frequently travel to and from -- such as home and work -- or just enter a location. Once you are ready to go, Citymapper will display suggested routes with departure times, fares, and travel times. And once you've set your course, Citymapper will display a live estimate of travel time -- including time spent walking -- and then steps you through your route in a series of screens. The only downside is Citymapper has nowhere near the coverage of Google Maps or Moovit: It spans about 40 major locations, from Vancouver to Mexico City, London to Brussels, Tokyo to Petersburg, and Sao Paulo to Sydney.
Citymapper is not your only choice.
Tell Moovit where you want to go, and the app will display travel times and suggested routes for public transit and ride-sharing services. Select your route, and the app presents a series of screens that step you through your trip with live detailed directions, including arrival times, walking distance, and number of stops till you depart. The app can alert you when you reach a transfer point or your destination. The app also includes crowdsourcing tools so you can report the status of a line and see reports from others. Moovit covers transit systems in 78 countries and 1,500 cities worldwide.
If your transportation route includes walking and biking, Transit's got you covered.
Transit takes a slightly different approach than other public-transit apps. When you open it up, it presents a dashboard of transportation options near you. In a major city, it's almost exhilarating to consider all the places you can go. It can also be overwhelming trying to find the one route you want in a screen crowded with choices. If, however, you have a specific location in mind, pick your destination, and the app gives you a variety of travel options, including public transit, biking, walking, and taking a ride-sharing service. Once you've picked your mode of transportation, tap and the app guides you through your journey. Transit can chart your trip in 10 countries and 145 cities.
You don't have to leave the Apple ecosystem to find an outstanding transit app.
Along with everything else it does, Apple Maps let you plan a public-transit trip. Pick a destination, and Maps picks the best methods for getting there. The app displays step-by-step directions, or you can have Siri step you through your journey. Apple Maps covers about three dozen U.S. cities, two dozen international cities, and a handful of countries, such as China.