Monthly Archives: May 2013

Google Maps to out-Rome2rio Rome2rio? We don’t think so.

Last week, Google announced a new version of Google Maps that, among other things, revamps their directions interface and adds flight search to the product. At the time, the leading travel industry news site Tnooz reported that the improvements could out-Rome2Rio Rome2Rio. Having now gained access to a preview of the new product, we are confident this is not the case. Google Maps is a wildly successful product that provides incredibly useful functionality for a variety of tasks, but it is not a travel search product. Rome2rio continues to offer a variety of advantages when it comes to multi-modal travel search and planning.

Let’s walk through the various areas where Rome2rio continues to offer unique functionality for travel search:

Multi-modal, door-to-door search

Google Maps remains limited to search results that utilize one mode of transport at a time. It does not provide itineraries that combine multiple modes of transport, such as a train journey, followed by a flight, followed by a taxi trip. Rome2rio, on the other hand, aims to provide a comprehensive set of all available options for getting from A to B by combining various modes of transport.

To illustrate, consider an example search from San Francisco to Whistler. Rome2rio (left) suggests flying from San Francisco airport to Vancouver airport, then taking a train and shuttle bus, or hire car, to the ski resort. Rome2rio also provides a handful of alternative air-surface itineraries, as well as lengthy train & bus and drive the whole way options. The new Google Maps (right) simply suggests driving for 16 hours to reach Whistler.

Rome2rio (left) and Google Maps (right) search results from San Francisco to Whistler

San Francisco to Whistler: Rome2rio (left) displays full multi-modal itineraries whilst Google Maps (right) only displays driving directions

Train, bus and ferry coverage

Rome2rio continues to offer far broader coverage of inter-city train, bus and ferry routes than Google Maps. Our transport database covers over 1,700 operators and continues to grow rapidly thanks to the tireless efforts of our content manager and his team of data researchers. Google’s transport coverage remains mostly limited to urban transit, although they added German Railways routes last year.

To illustrate, consider an example search from Ghent, Belgium to Hvar, Croatia. Rome2rio’s top result involves taking the train from Ghent to Brussels airport, flying to Split airport, a bus or taxi to the ferry terminal, then a ferry to Hvar. Since Google Maps is not multi-modal, it suggests driving for 17 hours instead. Even if we manually break the journey up, Google Map’s transport coverage is limited. Google suggests a complex 4 hour, four-hop tram and bus journey from Ghent to Brussels airport rather than a direct 1 hour train trip, and knows nothing about the bus services from Split airport to Split. Google does display the ferry route from Split to Hvar but gives an inaccurate journey time and no information about who operates the ferry, how often it runs, and where to go for more information.

Brussels to Hvar: Rome2rio (left) offers comprehensive transport coverage whilst Google Maps (right) does not know about the direct train to Brussels airport or the bus to Split, and provides limited information about the Hvar ferry

Brussels to Hvar: Rome2rio (left) offers comprehensive transport coverage whilst Google Maps (right) does not know about the direct train to Brussels airport or the bus to Split, and provides limited information about the Hvar ferry

Indicative pricing

Earlier this year we launched complete, door-to-door indicative pricing on Rome2rio. It was a major task collecting pricing information for so many transport operators across the globe. The feature was well received by both the industry and our users, and we saw a 25% increase in average time on site when it was launched. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that price is an important factor when deciding between travel options and modes of transport. Importantly, Rome2rio’s pricing is comprehensive; almost every single transport operator in our database is covered.

Google Maps displays prices for a small number of transport operators who have integrated pricing data into their GTFS feeds. Unlike Rome2rio, prices (even estimated fares) are not displayed for the majority of train, bus and ferry routes. No taxi or fuel estimates are provided. The new flight search integration does include estimated prices, however.

Flight search

Google has finally added flights to Google Maps, which was unsurprisingly a frequently requested feature. While this is a great first step, there’s clearly plenty to be improved with this integration. Google Maps shows flights between a single pair of airports near your origin and destination. An indicative price, abbreviated list of airlines and flight time are presented with a link to Google Flights for more information. Rome2rio, on the other hand, shows multiple flight options from various airports near your origin and destination as well as directions to and from those airports. Rome2rio also integrates the display of full flight itineraries. Check out this example search from San Francisco to Tulsa which highlights the differences.

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San Francisco to Tulsa: Rome2rio (left) provides several door-to-door itineraries involving flights from/to different airports, and displays a list of flight itineraries for each. Google Maps (right) displays only the SFO to TUL option with a link to Google Flights

User interface

At its core, Google Maps is a mapping product, not a travel search product. This affects how it is branded, how it is marketed, and how the user interface works. Rome2rio greets the user with travel pictures, FROM and TO input boxes, and example destinations. Rome2rio’s UI is focused entirely on multi-modal travel search. Google Maps greets users with a single search box and offers a vast array of features beyond transport directions. On this front, Rome2rio’s interface continues to have the edge over Google Maps for the specific task of inter-city travel planning.

Rome2rio (left) is marketed as a travel search product which Google Maps (right) is a mapping product

Rome2rio (left) is marketed as a travel search product which Google Maps (right) is a mapping product

Comparisons to Rome2rio aside, the new version of Google Maps is indeed a slick revision of an already polished, sophisticated and immensely popular product. We would not be surprised to see the Google Maps team focus on improving the product for travel search by expanding inter-city coverage and offering true multi-modal, door-to-door, travel search results within the next few years. In the meantime we will continue to focus on improving Rome2rio’s search accuracy and transport coverage to stay a few steps ahead of this very formidable competitor.

Rome2rio to Present at Travel Distribution Summit, London

Rome2rio co-founder and CTO Bernhard Tschirren will present an overview of the company’s vision to delegates at the Travel Distribution Summit conference, to be held in London on May 23 & 24. Bernie and CEO Rod Cuthbert are travelling to Europe to attend the conference, to meet with  companies currently working on Rome2rio integrations, and to discuss Rome2rio’s progress with investment firms.

paris

Our journey options for London to Paris. The ferry
might be fun, but we’re taking the train…

With almost half of Rome2rio.com’s traffic coming from European users, the trip is a great opportunity to connect with our most important source market, and gain a better understanding of how the European marketplace is responding to our vision for door to door, multi-modal travel search.

If you are based in Europe and interested in meeting with us during our visit (we’ll be in London, Paris and Barcelona), don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Transport Operators and Open Data: The Tide Has Turned

Governments and transport operators around the world are taking a wide range of approaches when it comes to making their data available to third parties.

Smartphone-toting commuters are increasing pressure on data owners by demanding services that tell them the best way to get across town, when the next train is due, which bus line they need and how much a taxi home might cost. In response there’s been a rash of independent developers — and sometimes government transit operators in their own right — jumping into the fray with apps to fulfill the demand.

Early developers cut corners by scraping operator websites to get the data they needed, while some forward-thinking operators began to make their schedules and related data available online. As the market grew — and it has grown rapidly, especially over the last 12 months — many governments realised they needed a transport data policy.

For Rome2rio this is an interesting topic: our global transport database contains data from thousands of operators in every corner of the globe, so we’re keen to see the development of standards and the opening up of data to third parties. Given the amount of time we’ve been doing this and the number of entities we work with, we’re in a good position to form some views about where the market is headed.

infoFree

In the United States, where the maxim “Information wants to be free” is at least well known, if not always adhered to, cities have generally taken a very open approach, though sometimes not without missteps. In 2009 New York’s MTA sued the developer of an an iPhone app that included Metro-North train schedules. These charges were immediately met by criticism from both the legal community and the New York City Council. The MTA reversed their stance, adopted an open data policy, and gained plenty of fans in the process. Literally dozens of public transport apps are now available to New York commuters, and the city provides a good model for how a healthy ecosystem of third party developers and products can quickly grow around an open data policy.

The Governments of the UK, The Netherlands and Sweden recently opened up their data to third parties, adopting the GTFS and TransXchange formats. The open data push is inevitably spreading to the traditionally conservative rail operators. French rail operator SNCF, historically very protective of their data, are now opening their doors. While they still have some way to go we applaud their initiative and expect their move will be watched closely by other rail operators throughout Europe.

Back here in Australia we’ve seen most of the states open up their transport data, although we’re intrigued by the current stoush over the NSW Government’s approach on live bus and train data, which saw them conduct a competition for app developers and then reward the winners with full access to the live data feed. Our view is that open access should mean just that, not “open to people we like” or “open to people who win the competitions that we run.”

Still, public servants are doing the right thing when their initial approach is caution rather than cutting edge. It probably won’t take long for NSW to remove further barriers to access, and join other Australian governments who have done away with most restrictions in this area. Here in Melbourne the umbrella department for transport operators, PTV, seems to be doing all the right things with its plan for opening up rail, tram and bus data. After meeting with some of the people involved we are convinced both of their good intentions and the progress they’re making.

(We worry, though, that senior PTV bureaucrats and politicians might be unrealistic in their expectations on data integrity, and perhaps stalling some data releases that would be of immediate advantage to the developer community and commuters alike. Holding off on opening up a particular dataset until every piece of data is 100% right 100% of the time sounds like a reasonable directive, but if the rest of the web worked that way there wouldn’t be much out there. In transport terms, a timetable that’s 99% accurate is incredibly valuable, and for all the problems that 1% might cause, we think the utility outweighs the downsides.)

In summary, then, we are very bullish on the progress made in the last 12 months, and confident that it will only gain momentum from now on. Just yesterday we heard from a major European rail operator, keen to better the efforts of SNCF and DBahn, and looking for partners to help. Of course we  expect there will long be holdouts in some parts of the world, striving to “protect” their precious data from misuse or misinterpretation, oblivious to the benefits of free market activity. We doubt, though, that these laggards will survive for too long. The tide has turned, and there’s no turning it back.

iPhone apps launched for Birmingham, London, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Sydney, United Kingdom & Las Vegas

In January this year we launched the Melbourne Transport Search iPhone app. Following its success, we have now launched a handful of new iPhone apps for various cities and regions across Europe, the US and Australia.

AppsCombined

The new apps are all powered by Rome2rio’s search technology, which we have customized and fine tuned for each region. We’ve chosen a collection of cities where we have great coverage, and where existing apps are not as focused on journey planning as Rome2rio.

If you live in, or are visiting, one of these cities then head over to the app store and give these new apps a whirl.