What really is the best way from A to B?

It struck me earlier this month whilst treking from my home in South West London to somewhere in deepest East London that we do actually have a pretty good transport system, i just think the problem is that people don’t know how to use it very well or they aren’t well advised on how to use.

Whilst lying in bed, distraught at the fact i had to get up almost 2 hours earlier than normal, I checked the TFL website on my phone for the fastest route to get me from home to my destination. The fastest journey time it gave me was an 1hr 15mins; but  I managed to get there, taking my own choice of route, in 45mins.  The reason i got there faster (i think) was because i chose to head in the wrong direction initially – this was done on purpose and not because i was still half asleep!  I presume that the fact the train headed south before heading back north again caused the algorithm behind the journey planner to initially disregard that route. 

Don’t get me wrong, i think the TFL journey planner is very useful, especially when heading somewhere you’ve never been before,  I just feel its lacking quite a bit.  Given the size of the London Transport network (buses, tube, trams, trains, boats, cycleways and pavements – yes walking is a mode of transport) there a multitude of possible ways that i could get between any two points in this fine city.

The system is going to be flawed at some point as it would have to spend hours calculating each possible route requested. But these hours of processing are being done every single day by the inhabitants of London (and every other city of the world for that matter) as we choose to travel to and from work, to the shops or as we wander aimlessly to pass some time we make choices about which is the best way to go, but this information is lost.  

I have noticed that there is a current request on ShowUsABetterWay for TFL data to be opened up via an API. This would be perfect as it would allow everyone to contribute to making it work better. There are enough talented and intelligent developers out there to produce something that would be more useful than TFL could ever do.

What about a system for people to rate suggested routes or suggest alternative routes after they have travelled? What if you were able to give reasons for routes; less foot traffic, cleaner streets, better lighting. There is a brilliant mock up of a TFL journey planner and some crime data mash-up on ShowUsABetterway displaying which routes have a high prevalance of crime at certain times – what better for people who don’t know a particular area. There’s also the positive aspects; what about routes that are more scenic at certain times, i’d suggest walking along the Embankment or South Bank at sunset/dusk during Summer for the added eyecandy at the expense of another few minutes on your journey time rather than being lost a couple of streets back.

Boris Johnson has a seemingly impossible task to improve the London Transport network with the upcoming 2012 Olympics. What better way to tackle the problem than to get the citizens of our fine city to contribute? And if we don’t help, we can’t really complain!

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