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Google Debuts New Transit Congestion Feature

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Google is introducing a new service that will tell users how crowded a train or bus will be, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The new feature is available on Thursday (June 27) and it will work in upwards of 200 cities, with about 25 percent of them being in the U.S.

Riders from Los Angeles to New York, as well as smaller places like Champaign, New Haven and others will be able to use it. Google said that it might take some users a few days to see the feature in their phone. 

When someone searches for directions in Google Maps, in addition to the recommended routes, there will also be predictions of how crowded the bus, streetcar, ferry or train will be.

Taylah Hasaballah, a Google product manager in Sydney, Australia, said that how crowded a particular mode of transportation happens to be is a main concern of riders, according to the company’s research. 

“This feature is aimed at helping those users to make better decisions and trade-offs about how they would like to move around their city,” Hasaballah said.

The information comes from crowdsourced data from riders all around the world. Google started asking riders in 2018 to rate journeys, and they were given four options for crowdedness: many empty seats; few empty seats; standing room only; or cramped standing room only.

Google started that particular survey in October of last year, and it used the data to build a crowdedness model. To keep the information up to date, it will continue asking the question. 

The accuracy of the results are fairly high, Hasaballah said. She also said that since the ratings are user generated, it can be hard to tabulate and analyze the data, because everyone’s idea of crowdedness could be different. 

A spokesperson for Google said the prediction works best when trains and buses are moving according to schedule. 

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