Happy Earth Day, environmental sinners. Today is the day for feeling guilty about all the things your life revolve around, if you’re a typical American business person — your cross-country flights, your expanding collection of electronics, your wasteful habits, your car. Some of the changes you should make come down to self restraint — but for others, there’s a dire need for alternative options. After all, you need your car, right?
Maybe not, if you live in an area with public transportation. For that, there are rapidly expanding planning services to help you figure out how to get around. Today, Google Transit is announcing coverage of nine more cities, bringing its total in the United States to 46, while another provider, HopStop, is touting the eight million pageviews, and 25 million ad impressions, it now gets each month on its site.
Here’s how they work: For Google Transit, you just enter a destination in Google Maps and click on an option to see public transit instead of driving directions. For HopStop, which also works well with mobile devices, you have the additional option of seeing private shuttles, ferries and taxi fares.
While most cities have their own planning software, it’s generally not very well made (like most things produced in a government office). Google and HopStop do a better job with their websites, work on mobile devices, and, most importantly, want to do a better job at helping people figure out public transportation.
A much broader question is how the crummy public transit systems of the US can be improved. You might imagine that in a compact, environmentally conscious city like San Francisco, transit would be great, but it’s not. For anyone on an even remotely tight schedule, the shoddy bus system here — and in nearly every other US city — isn’t an option. The subway is, at best, decent.
While neither Google nor Hopstop can cure those ills, they might eventually contribute to relieving the pain somewhat, especially in conjunction with GPS tracking technologies like Nextbus that can help with planning. And bigger projects in the works, like the proposed Los Angeles – San Francisco train line, show there’s some public will to change.