29 September 2011

Playing with Placr

I have had a chance to play with the new mobile 'app' as launched for Plymouth Citybus:
First you get to choose your local operator...

You can then select Routes and then select the route number (or search by route number). For some reason the screen shot would not work at this point, but its very straight forward and clear.

The one unique feature is the 'activity' view which simply gives a list of the relevant Twitter feeds for this route. This is so you can see the latest news about how this route is running. This is only as useful as the tweets themselves. The screen shot for the 50 demonstrates the shortcomings of this. The top two entries fare from 2 days ago and the others are a month ago. There have been a lot more relevant tweets especially about the almost daily diversions around the Cattedown area. Clearly not many of these tweets actually mention the 50 by number. "All buses diverted via Gdynia Way" wont show up on this view. Hopefully now that this app is live the Twitter feed will be updated more frequently and make sure all route numbers are mentioned. Citybus could look to sister company Southern Vectis for their detailed reports when specific journeys are delayed through breakdowns etc.

To get to the timetable view you select the direction and the day of operation. This is important as it seems the app can tell the time but not the day of operation.


When you select your stop from the list it tells you the next bus from that stop. This is where its important you selected the right day timetable on the previous step.

I have circled the line which I feel explains why this app isn't quite the app it should be. No access to live data. This is a real shame as its the big missing link in this whole app. Real time information in Plymouth has never managed to live up to the initial promises made all those years ago. The Twitter feed is a nice idea but will never fill the gap of real time information.
The maps in the app come from OpenStreetMap and are pretty clear. They are not as detailed as Google Maps but are more than adequate for the job in hand.
As well as the search by route number you can search by bus stop. This is where mobile smart phones work so well as they will usually know your location. On my PC it tells me the nearest stop is Royal Parade! The mobile correctly offers me the correct stops. It tells you the next buses to depart (or arrive) at this stop.

if you select a listed departure you get the full journey displayed as above.

Is it useful? Up to a point I would say yes. Its certainly easier than trying to view timetables on the Citybus web site, especially on your mobile. If they can get real time access then it would be a very useful app. My own route, the 50, is really suffering from late running due to all the East End roadworks and the congestion zone that is Derriford Hospital. Knowing that the bus is actually on its way and will arrive in a few mins makes it easier to plan which bus to catch and which stop to use. At the moment I use the text service which costs 20p. I only use it when its pouring down with rain as we have no shelter at our stop so I like to leave it till the last minute if I can. This is useful if you know the bus stop code, but many stops dont actually display the code anywhere.

It seems that Placr are also hoping that passengers will also add to the twitter stream from within the app.

“You can also find out live information from a bus operator and other passengers in the activity stream. You can contribute to this activity stream by posting a tweet for a bus route or stop to start a conversation with others. Feel free to just say hi and be sociable, but we're also looking for comments on the bus service, compliments to the bus driver, or reports of long term or short term issues”

If you use the comment link within the app it looks like it will be picked up and appear in the Twitter stream for others to view. I will have to test this myself to see if it works!

The last word to Placr:

placr.mobi is in early testing. We have a few glitches to iron out still. We'll be making some improvements over the coming months. Thank you for getting in on the action early. We hope you like it!


Elsewhere on the net

  • With thanks to those who voted in the Omnibuses blog survey for the best bus livery we’re now able to reveal the result. Omnibuses
  • Wickham will add Go South Coast to his current responsibilities at Plymouth Citybus. Dorset Bus Blog
  • The Green Era # 1 TGP Photos Unlimited

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