Need help navigating the MBTA?
There’s an app for that. In fact, there are dozens of third-party apps for the Boston transit system alone, all with different features and levels of user-friendliness. While commuters may be familiar with the See Say public safety app from the MBTA police, so far the transit agency has taken a back seat when it comes to endorsing a specific travel app.
But all of that is about to change: The MBTA launched a contest last July aimed at identifying a winning app that would become the agency’s official mobile tool.
“While this array of [app] options allows the dedicated user to find the one that’s right for them, for many riders the proliferation of single-purpose apps can lead to confusion and does not always meet the T’s goal for a seamless customer service,” a statement announcing the contest said. “A single prominently endorsed app can provide a tremendous improvement in customer experience.”
The four finalists announced earlier this month — Moovel, Moovit, Swiftly and Transit — are all available to download for free on either iPhones or Androids. Here are some pros and cons of each:
Based in Germany, Moovel is known in that country for being the first app to offer riders the ability to buy e-tickets they could use on local transit systems.
It’s not clear if that feature will be available at some point in the future for Boston, but there are other features worth a look: Moovel is intuitive, opening up with your real-time GPS location on a Google Map layout, and featuring pins identifying all the nearest transit stops, including bus stations.
There were few unique features included in this app, though its ease of use is a definite plus.
Moovit, based in Israel, boasts that it is the most popular transit app in the world, announcing in January that it serviced 28 million people in 700 cities in 58 countries.
The app offers standard features like schedules, real-time arrival information and directions, but a unique offering is its “live ride” function: Activated by a user, the app begins to stream real-time information the company uses to calculate arrival times. It also allows the app to help you out, by sending you a ping to notify when you are approaching your stop.
Another cool feature? The app’s “best way today” function, which, based on prevailing traffic conditions, calculates your fastest route to work or home and automatically sends it to your phone when it’s time to go.
Swiftly’s big sell is its second-by-second countdown of real-time bus and train arrival estimates, which the company says are often accurate within a minute — not bad when you are trying to catch one of the MBTA’s sometimes elusive buses.
The app’s directions feature not only offers estimates for the cost of transportation — including Uber — but the caloric output of, say, walking or biking to your destination instead.
Transit’s design is the most minimalist of the four, but it is pretty: its bright colors and cool-looking fonts give the app a very polished and straightforward feel.
The app opens with a map interface and a series of transit stops, ranked by their distance from you, though it would be helpful if the stops were laid out on the map as well — riders need to click on a bus stop before the app will indicate where it is on a map.
Transit also offers notifications that you’re approaching your stop, and calendar integration that allows the app to assume that you’ll want directions to a scheduled appointment.
The MBTA will announce the winner on Sept. 6.