When the TTC launched its Next Vehicle Arrival System for streetcars last year, there were limited options for riders to actually get that information: unless you were at a station with a display screen or knew how to manipulate the URLs of the NextBus website, it was hard to access. Since then, the TTC has launched its SMS text messaging service for arrival predictions, added displays at more stations and stops, and most importantly, opened up the data feed for developers via Toronto’s Open Data initiative. These efforts have made it much easier to get vehicle arrival predictions easily, and have created the groundwork for even more convenience when the system expands to all TTC bus routes sometime this year.
A number of apps that harvest the live streetcar data have now popped up. Some are iPhone specific while others can be accessed by any web-capable smartphone, and each has its pros and cons. And so, we hereby present Torontoist’s guide to TTC-related apps, for when you are on the go. We will keep updating this post as new apps are added, so you can keep track of them all and compare them easily.
WEB APPSWeb apps are free, universal to most web-based smartphones, and can be just as powerful and easy to use as mobile-specific apps.
Developed by the company behind the next vehicle system, this was the first app to use the location-awareness ability of mobile browsers to give you streetcar predictions for stops closest to you. When added onto our iPhone’s home screen, it provided predictions within ten seconds of launching.
Pros: Free. Displays information by stop in addition to route, which is particularly useful for stops on streets served by multiple routes. This also makes it easy to see if there is another route nearby where a vehicle may be arriving sooner. Shows stops and routes only where predictions exist, so you don’t have to scroll needlessly through routes that aren’t running. Also useful when visiting other NextBus-friendly cities.
Cons: The web app icon needs to be updated for iPhone 4’s retina display.
Where Is My Streetcar?
Created by local developer James Agnew, this was one of the first applications that sprung from the opening up of the next vehicle data. Initially for desktop browsers, the site now boasts a mobile-friendly format. The best feature of this app is the map, allowing riders to see exactly where streetcars are. This was very useful for us on Christmas Day, when the TTC’s own predictions—which are based on an algorithm of average operating conditions—were wildly off, since streetcars were travelling much faster than usual.
Pros: The aforementioned map, especially for the eye candy when there is a delay and you see all the streetcars bunched up. Even cooler: recently, a layer was added that tells you how fast streetcars are going along the route and points out where there are slowdowns, similar to the Google Maps traffic layer.
Cons: Can be a bit slow to load. Difficult to select route and stop, even when using the “Find Stops Near Me” function, though setting favourites makes it somewhat easier.
iPHONE APPSMobile-friendly apps are great because they often have features which take you beyond what a web page or web app can do. To start with, we’re looking at primarily iOS-based apps. (If you are an Android or Blackberry user and know of apps exclusive to those platforms we should look at, let us know and we’ll update with additional reviews.)
Although this took its time getting into the app market—it launched at the end of February—Pocket Rocket, by Tiny Planet Software, is also the most feature-rich. These features are the value-added elements of apps that make them worth the couple of dollars.
Pros: Like NextBus’s web app, Pocket Rocket will show you all the routes with stops near you and at a quick glance. The option to view these stops on a map with a touch of a button is handy too, especially for people unfamiliar with Toronto streets. The neatest feature of the app, though, is what happens when you click on a stop: it estimates your arrival time at major intersections down the line. This is very useful to plan transfers or figure out when you will arrive at your destination.
Cons: Though it adds a bunch of handy features, Pocket Rocket is missing a few too, the most glaring of which is the ability to manually select a route and stop. It also lacks the ability to set favourites.
Launched in late January by the folks at The App Boutique. An app in the same vein as Rocket Radar’s, Next Streetcar adds a few additional features that make it worthy for a spot on your home screen.
Pros: A simple and elegant user interface. Where more than one route is available at the nearest stop, a pop up prompts you to choose your desired route. Most importantly, it adds favourite functionality, which is a good way to quickly select a stop you use often, even when you are not near it.
Cons: The countdown feature, while fancy, can be distracting. And since NextBus predictions are not necessarily that accurate, to-the-second tracking is a bit over the top.
One of the most widely reported entries into the next streetcar app game, local developer Adam Schwabe’s Rocket Radar is a simple app that does what it promises, offering a little bit of user interface eye candy while it searches for your nearest stop.
Pros: Simple interface. Displays times for next five streetcars with a swipe. Fairly fast: finds stop and displays information as quickly as the NextBus web app. At $1.99, it is cheaper than a TTC token.
Cons: Displays (and sometimes selects) streetcar routes that are not running, making it necessary to swipe to an active route. Cannot manually select a route and stop, which would be useful when planning transfers in advance. At $1.99, it’s not cheaper than the free options, especially when lacking additional features.
Although the TTC launched a mobile version of its website in September, the TTC Mobile app still has a place in our phones. It is basically an engine that reformats the TTC’s online schedule information in a mobile-friendly format, while adding the benefits of iDevice touch navigation.
Pros: Quickly find the schedule for your route. Automatically saves previously selected routes for future use. Pulls directly from the TTC’s website, so the schedules are up-to-date. Simpler navigation compared to the TTC’s mobile website.
Cons: Maps and info tab no longer works. Does not incorporate real-time information, but does provide stop numbers for SMS use.
Smart Ride uses the NextBus framework and provides real-time information for a number of NextBus-equipped systems, including the TTC. In addition to showing predictions for nearest stops, this free app adds a map feature that lets you scroll around and select stops for predictions—useful if you are unfamiliar with Toronto’s streets.
Pros: Predictions are fast, and five arrival times are provided. Map feature is useful. Can select routes to display a line map that marks nearest stop. Easy to mark and view favourite stops.
Cons: Selects multiple stops for the same route, which is redundant. Displays stops and routes that are not running at various times of day, similar to Rocket Radar.