The new VIA smartphone app, Go VIA VIA, has a real chance at changing the landscape of transportation in San Antonio by making it easier for long-time riders and new riders to navigate the intricate maze of bus routes and schedules. (see note about new riders at bottom of post*)
Go VIA VIA has been out for Apple and Android devices since Monday, and it already has some fans and critics. The bottom line, though, is that it is far better than the old app--which wasn't interactive in any way, shape or form.
Though much of this application's success will rest on how VIA manages the usability by staying up-to-date on quality updates, the true measure of success will be if VIA can get more people to use it--and help improve ridership numbers.
Here are five things that this app has going for it that will help make a difference in San Antonio.
#1: Better than the old one
The last app was $1, and was a big letdown--it consisted of nothing but scanned bus schedule pamphlets. Although it was handy if you knew your route, you could just go to the VIA website and download them for free if you had an internet connection.
- This app had so little use that it left you feeling cheated out of a dollar.
Go VIA VIA is free and interactive, which is a double improvement in user experience right off the bat.
#2: Ease of use
Your home screen on the Go VIA VIA app is a location map of your current location (enable your GPS). Scroll around the San Antonio map and press the VIA circle icon at the top left of the screen to refresh the display of all VIA bus stops around your location.
#3: Real-time information
Clicking on one of the bus stops shows a list of routes that stop there and the estimated arrival time for each. You can set an alert for the app to notify you when the bus is two minutes away from your desired stop, and you can take a look at the route on a city map to make sure you are heading where you want to go.
Set the alarm and feel free to close the app. Your phone will chime once as the bus gets close. (NOTE: it would be easy to miss the single chime if you get busy doing something else, so it would be nice to have the option of changing the alarm settings.)
- I have used this several times and the alarm is as accurate as you can reasonably ask for taking into account traffic and lights--time range is +/- 1 minute. Very impressive.
#4: Trip Planner is clear and concise
This feature is actually easier to use than the trip planner on the regular VIA website. Enter your location and destination and it displays the top four routes for your trip by time--it defaults to the current time so adjust the departure or arrival time as needed.
These route options are so clear that they even tell you when to walk and when to board: "Walk to Wurzbach and Fredericksburg Rd. About 11 mins (.05 mi)"
#5: Everything you need to know
The "More" menu has an easy link to Rider Alerts, with VIA press releases about route changes and community hearings for things like the streetcar project. Get quick links to other useful info like VIA contacts, Park & Ride info, and Transit Center locations.
- Fares link shows you all the VIA cost info.
Things that can still be improved:
The system map needs to be clearer when you zoom in. Right now the image pixelates as you zoom in so you can't read the street names or see the route numbers. The detailed Downtown map has it's own zoom capability that is clear as you zoom in.
Another zoom problem: You can't zoom in on the route maps under the Schedules menu. That means you can't zoom in far enough to read street names and get a detailed view of each route, which for a new rider is really helpful in figuring out how to get where you are going.
Have to mention the alarm options again as the single chime is easy to miss.
Even with a few issues, and some of the gripes on the Apple Store and Google Play reviews, this app is a great tool that could help make people more comfortable with riding mass transit in San Antonio.
One of the biggest obstacles to getting a non-rider to take a chance on riding the bus or other mass transit is a fear of the unknown, a fear that can be overcome by making sure new riders can easily find out how to get where they are going with confidence.
This is a great start for VIA and it is long overdue, now it's up to them to keep it current with updates and respond to feedback.
Thursday, June 20 is national Dump The Pump day when people are encouraged to leave their vehicles at home and try public transportation.
A great opportunity to put the new VIA app to the test.