During an Art Brut concert in Tel Aviv in 2010, the band’s lead singer Eddie Argos explained why he wrote the song “The Passenger”. He was disappointed to discover that Iggy Pop’s The Passenger is not really about riding the train, but “embodying the nomadic spirit of the punk outcast”. So Argos wrote his own version of The Passenger as a real love song for public transit: “Some people hate the bus / Not me, I can’t get enough … I love public transportation!”. Well, it’s not exactly Shakespeare or Dante, but at least the song is straightforward. Argos loves public transportation, so do I.
When I’m at home and just want to burn some time, I prefer doing something a bit more meaningful than Candy Crash. Luckily, in recent years some great public transit apps have been released online, enabling me, and other rock stars like Eddie Argos, to get their public transit fix online. These web apps are not only pure entertainment, but they also provide people with the possibility to better understand different aspects of the complex world of public transportation. Once people will know more about planning these systems, they will feel more comfortable to actively participate in decision making processes. Attractive and simple public transportation web apps can therefore play a role in promoting citizen participation. So, here are some of my favorite public transportation web apps:
Its creators describe Mini Metro as a “minimalistic subway layout game”, but I’d say that it’s more of a puzzle-strategy game. In short, the player should change the layout of an imaginary subway system according to passengers’ demand, but with respect to infrastructure and service limitations. It is important to note that the game obviously simplifies key elements in the process of building a transit network, and I recommend the great piece by Human Transit about the similarities and dissimilarities between the game and real life. Nonetheless, if you’ve been dreaming all your life of creating your own subway network – this is your chance.
Remix (used to be Transitmix) is not a game, but a web app that offers laymen, as well as transit experts, the possibility to understand the tradeoffs that are so integral in designing a public transportation system. Since you can plan a system on existing cities, Remix can also allow citizens to experiment with their ideas, see what is possible, and hopefully get involved in reshaping their city.
I used to play quite a bit with Transitmix, and while writing this post I wanted to check the service again. Besides changing their name to Remix, they also closed the open service, and now one needs to register and wait for the team to get in touch. That’s a bummer, but I’m looking forward to regain my access to the service and explore the new features they promise.
If you are less into planning and more into observing, Travic is for you. This app, created by University of Freiburg, provides movement visualization of transit systems from cities all over the world. As simple as that. As you can see in the picture below, moving dots represent busses, tram or trains in real time. In this case, Berlin looks like a well oiled machine.
Streetmix is not about public transportation per se, but it has the potential to transform cities into human and transit friendly places. It is basically a very simple tool the reshape any street, and it allows anyone, not just architects and planners, to suggest their ideas for the city. I showed it to a city planner a while ago, and he laughed: “Oh my god, we will be left without a job”. I won’t be that worried for planners’ careers, but I urge cities to ask their citizens to re-think their own street. Maybe replace a parking lane with a bus lane? Or downsize the car lane to add a bicycle path? It can all be visualized with Streetmix.