Taking another (gentle) swipe at Google’s transit results

Published February 23, 2016

We wrote in some depth last year about the poor quality of the inter-city transit component in many Google Maps results. These results are displayed at the top of SERPs for queries like “How do I get from A to B?”. Since then Google has gone some way towards extending their coverage of transportation operators — here’s their new result for Amsterdam to Paris: perfect! — but they still fall well short of a standard that might justify putting their own results ahead of comprehensive and accurate results from others, including Rome2rio.

Here’s an example of what we mean: answering the query “How do I get from Toulouse, France to Zaragoza, Spain?” Google suggests a bus from Toulouse to Barcelona; a seven minute walk from one station to another; then the local R3 train to Barcelona-Sants station, and (finally!) a change to the high-speed AVE train to Zaragoza. That’s a complex journey of just under 9 hours, and it’s frankly silly when compared to simply taking the AVE all the way from Toulouse, via Barcelona. But Google doesn’t suggest that option.

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Logic-defying suggestions like this abound in Google’s transit results. Our comment when we last discussed this topic was that rather than suggest crazy routings, Google should not make any transit suggestions at all. That seems to be occurring a little more  here’s a good example, in Morocco — but within Western Europe, Google consistently leads its trusting users astray, with suggested routes that are often illogical, lengthy and hopelessly complex.

(Another classic example: Google’s suggestion for Nice to Milan. Two buses, then the Metro… 7:29 hours! Here’s the correct answer, the excellent Thello train service all the way, at 4:41 hours.)

A few months ago our industry colleague, Tripadvisor founder and CEO Steve Kaufer, got Google’s attention with a pointed tweet.

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It’s unusual for industry leaders to speak out against Google; frankly, nobody wants to upset the powerful operators of the search and advertising platform on which we all rely so heavily. But given Steve Kaufer’s success — Tripadvisor results for this type of query seem to be on top again — and Google’s oft-repeated mantra of always wanting to do what’s best for users, it’s probably safe to give them another gentle poke about their less than fabulous transit offerings.

It’s clear that Rome2rio and other multi-modal specialists — GoEuroGopiliQixxit all come to mind — provide inter-city transit results of a consistently higher quality than the search giant’s own somewhat patchy offering. A move by Google to preference high quality, relevant results from third parties over their own would certainly be a good outcome for users.

Written by
Executive Chairman of Rome2rio
Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at rome2rio.com