1. Transport
August 25, 2015

CityMapper's new feature literally tells its users where to get off

By City Monitor Staff

NOTE: This story was updated at 1630hrs to reflect some, er, problems with the new feature.

Urban transport planning up CityMapper has been on a bit of a novelty features kick of late. Firstly there was the “hoverboard option”, which let you make like Marty McFly only not really. Then it let Londoners plan journeys using Crossrail, which given that it won’t open for another four years is only slightly less fantastical.

CityMetric, being the Mean Girls of the urbanism world that we are, have been terribly beastly about all this. But CityMapper remains an incredibly clever bit of kit, so it’s no great surprise to see it’s done it again and added a new and practical feature that’s really rather good.

Here it is:

Here, too:

But what, we hear you ask, does “best section” mean? A post on the app’s blog explains:

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Best Boarding Strategy on Platforms for Carriage/ Car /Train Exit Planning Optimisation

aka ‘Where to Get On the Train’

High five!


It goes on to explain that the feature advises users where

to get on the train in order to be best positioned to the exit / transfer when you get off.

In peak hours this will knock minutes of your journey time and lead to more combined zen in the city.

In other words, it’s all about making a quick getaway.

Making such a feature universal requires detailed knowledge of the layout of every platform on every station on every transport network that the app covers. That includes fiddly things like stations with multiple exits, hidden shortcuts and so on.

That’s a lot of data, and CityMapper admits it doesn’t have all of it:

You haven’t been to Vauxhall? Really?

…so the blogpost ends with the following:

Hey, here’s an idea! How about you help us out? Tap on ‘Improve Data’ at the bottom of journey pages, and you can send us feedback on anything we’re missing. Yay!

“Yay”. They actually went with “Yay”.

It is on the whole a very clever feature – but if we have a concern (and we do) it’s that it isn’t obvious from the app itself what “best section” means. Before we found the blogpost, we’d assumed that “best” meant “emptiest” and therefore most likely to yield a seat, and got as far as emailing cityMapper to confirm this assumption.

A feature like the one we’ve inadvertently invented in the previous paragraph would bring problems of its own – in a network in which everyone used CityMapper, its information would quickly become useless as everyone rushed to the empty bits – which is presumably why CityMapper’s version does something else.

But, from the app’s own interface, it’s not immediately obvious what it does do. Make that a tiny bit clearer, and it’ll be incredibly useful.

So, er, well done, guys. Yay. High five!

No, we can’t pull that off.


UPDATE, 16.30hrs: 

Before we published the above, we checked what the new feature told us to do in several of the London stations with which we’re most familiar. It seemed to work.

But on Twitter, Geoff Marshall, film-maker, app-designer and Londonist tube guru, noted that he’d been rather less succesful:

Apparently this wasn’t an isolated incident, either. 

The problem here seems to be the crowd-sourced nature of the data: rely on your users for information, and sometimes they’re going to be wrong and/or trolling you. Hopefully it’ll get better over time. 

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