Google Expands Transit Congestion Forecast to More Cities as Transit Use Rises During Pandemic


At the height of the pandemic, major cities have seen their offices close, restaurants and nightlife closed, and a shift to decentralized modes of transportation, like shared electric scooters and personal vehicles. As a result, some transportation systems have experienced a drop in ridership of up to 97%.

But transit usage is rebounding, with Google reporting transit routes on its Maps app up 50% from last year in the United States. The company also said that, based on its data, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston and Washington DC currently have the most congested transit systems.

As a result, Google is expanding a feature that helps passengers stay comfortable and maintain physical distance while using public transportation.

In 2019, Google Maps rolled out overcrowding forecasts in nearly 200 cities. Now Google is expanding the functionality to cover more than 10,000 transit agencies in 100 countries. The feature provides information on the likelihood of being congested on a metro, train or bus trip, based on data obtained from previous trips. The updated version of this feature is now available.

Note that Google first deployed this feature before the pandemic, when passengers were more concerned about feeling crowded on a train than contracting a virus.

If you’re wondering how Google got this data, it used Google Maps user contributions and historical location trends anonymized, projected and analyzed by AI. If you’re looking for more precise data, down to train level, Google said it’s testing the ability to see live congestion forecasts using data transmitted directly from New York and Sydney, Australia.

Along with this update, Google is bringing more updates to Maps, focusing on transportation trends and memories. Google is adding a new “Timeline Insights” tab to the Maps app on Android, which can only be viewed by the user. The feature will detail which modes of transportation a person has used the most and how much time a person spends in different categories of places. This is a beefed-up version of Google’s current “Timeline” feature, which offers data points on previous locations traveled. This feature is currently only available for Android users.

Google Maps is also adding the “Trips” tab, which, in the style of Apple’s iOS Memories feature, helps users remember previous vacations and long-distance trips, by collecting a list of places visited. The feature will also allow users to export the list of places visited for external sharing. This feature is now available for Android users.

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