Google Maps is massively increasing its crowd reporting service for native transport

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Enlarge / Overcrowded trains and buses were never exactly popular – they are even less popular in the middle of the pandemic. Google Maps’ new upgrades can help its users avoid the crowds more effectively.

Google today announced a major expansion of its ability to warn users of overcrowded public transit. Originally launched in June 2019, the feature covered around 200 cities worldwide, using user-reported data similar to Waze to detect and predict overcrowded trains and buses. According to today’s announcement, Google is expanding this initial rollout to 200 cities to (finally) over 10,000 transport companies in 100 countries.

Unsurprisingly, Google Maps’ local traffic forecasts are not based solely on data reported directly by users. They use AI models that have been trained on this data.

“We use world-class anonymization technology and differential data protection techniques for location history data to ensure that your data remains private and secure,” the announcement states – although we have to point out that attempts to anonymize location data often fail.

  • In this GIF, a user finds a bus route that takes them to a Google Store in NYC. The app tells the user that the bus is not currently crowded – and lets them change this status if the app has done something wrong.

  • In New York City and Sydney, users are offered additional granularity – the app predicts which individual cars on a given train will be the least crowded.

    Google

  • Google’s Timeline Insights can help you “be mindful” of the time you commute.

    Google

According to Google, users’ bulk traffic reports know whether their local transit line is likely to have “lots of vacancies, at full capacity, or somewhere or in between,” so users can make a more informed decision about whether to “hop on” or wait for another Zug. “In New York and Sydney, the program takes even deeper information and provides live information on the overcrowding” down to the level of transit cars. “Today’s announcement also advises that public transport in the US is after morning rush hour traffic and before evening rush hour traffic is less crowded – information that will not surprise anyone who regularly uses public transport.

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Maps also updates its timeline feature to include public transport travel history so users know how much time they have spent and how far they have traveled on public transit, on foot, by car, and more. If you don’t like this feature or if you don’t trust Google’s “world class anonymization technology”, you can turn off your Android device’s location history entirely. (Turning off location history has a significant impact on ridesharing, weather, and map apps, among other things – and can make some completely unusable.)

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