Google Maps is testing a new feature that aims to make it easier to avoid the crowds on local transit – a potential health concern amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the existing predictions from Maps, which give a general indication of when trains and buses are likely to be busy, Google is running live update tests in New York and Sydney. In theory, this could provide much more up-to-date details on whether or not you can avoid the overcrowding, and it apparently works down to a single transit car level.
General overcrowding predictions are also extended to over 10,000 new cities in 100 countries. The feature can already give Google Maps users information about their chances of getting a seat or otherwise avoiding the worst rush hour traffic by combining data from local traffic authorities with feedback provided by users. However, these pilots in New York and Sydney are the app’s first attempt at providing live updates, as opposed to simple trends.
With public transport usage increasing after a previous pandemic-induced lull, live information on how crowded your commute can be could be very useful indeed. Knowing whether to take the next train or wait for a less busy service could help you minimize the risk of infection spreading and ensure more comfortable travel overall.
Currently, the pilot only covers traffic under the supervision of Long Island Rail Road and Transport for New South Wales, although Google has said more cities are “coming soon”.
In addition to trying to improve future trips, Google Maps has also taken a closer look at your previous trips. Earlier this month, Google added a new Insights tab to the Maps Timeline section that breaks down your time using different modes of transport, including walking, as well as the types of places you’ve visited.
This could raise questions about the extent to which Google Maps is tracking users, an issue that is likely to come up during the live pilots for the overcrowding update as well. Accessing or transmitting information on very specific traffic services can prove inconvenient for those who wish to keep their location data private.
For its part, Google says it uses “world-class anonymization technology” to keep user data safe.