The metro is easy. Google India and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) have announced the availability of Delhi Metro transit information on Google Maps, including – train timings, station and fare details, approximate time travel information. As a frequent user of both the Delhi Metro and Google Maps, I can vouch for the following:

Firstly, that the trains going in a single direction arrive at stations at least every 5 minutes, and the timing displayed is never accurate, so the timing doesn’t really matter. Secondly, that while the best feature of the integration is a suggested route to a destination that includes public transportation, Google maps in India don’t take into account traffic information and roads being blocked, and hence the approximate timing is almost always out of whack. Depend on the timing at your own peril.

Where it really helps

The integration will work best for someone is either completely unfamiliar with the Delhi Metro, so keeping in mind the Commonwealth Games, this will be most useful. It will also help anyone who isn’t quite sure of which station to disembark at for a particular location in Delhi, or is simply seeking the shortest route to a metro station: if you’re in the congested Karol Bagh area, and not sure about whether you’re closer to the Karol Bagh metro station, or the Rajendra Place metro station, which are a kilometer apart. As the Metro’s spidery spread through Delhi grows, this will be of immense use.

More important than the transit information is the proximity information: users can search for restaurants and ATMs close to their location and metro stations. According to a statement from Google, the company also provides information on Chennai MRTS, Kolkata Metro, Hyderabad Metro transit services to commuters in Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad respectively.

A note for Google: on the mobile, the font size for information on timings is much too large, and requires horizontal scrolling on my Nokia N95.

The Real Challenge: Buses

The real challenge, though, is integrating bus routes. Business Standard reports that Google is also in talks with the Delhi Transport Corporation for information on bus routes. This is going to be complicated since even though the routes are defined, Delhi has a mix of private and public bus operators: the former are notorious for lack of reliability when it comes to both routes (and stops at specific bus stops) and timings. The BMC is probably a better bet, but for commuters, even having a digitized source which helps find out which bus  number to take to a particular destination is of immense value.

In that context, a startup called Mobile 4 Mumbai has digitized the BEST bus routes and bus number details for Mumbai, in an application that doesn’t require GPRS or mobile Internet connectivity. What they’ve done best, is to allow users to bluetooth the J2ME application from one handset to another. I think more apps should allow that.

GPRS & Reliability

I’ve been using Google Latitude for well over a year now: there times when my friends and have I walked into each other in the congested Chandni Chowk area in Delhi using Latitude. But as I found out recently in Noida, while the maps may be reliable, Latitude and locating friends on maps live can be a bit of an issue. A friend and I were to meet in Noida, a city that I’m unfamiliar with. So, instead of asking for directions, I just asked him to go live on Latitude, and drove towards him. I hadn’t taken into account mobile towers being shut down in Noida, and drove around 8 km in the wrong direction. A lesson learnt the hard way.

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