Excursion Boston releases MBTA app

Ryan Boyle
Journal Staff

How can you sleep in later, minimize your time in the frigid New England weather, and get to class on time? Well now there’s an app for that – actually a few.

Excursion Boston is hitting the home screens of college students’ iPhones across the city.  The application was updated recently with real-time location based tracking of MBTA buses and heavy-rail subway lines.  This update comes after the recent release of real-time location based data becoming available from the Massachusetts Developmental Office in an attempt to spur innovation with transit data.

The Excursion Boston application is available for 99 cents in the iTunes App Store.  Upon opening the app, the user is presented a screen with a button that says, “Closest Stops” and some instructions.  This is my first gripe with the application – you shouldn’t have to click a button to have the closest stations and bus stops displayed.  Once you get through clicking that button the app utilizes the built-in GPS to display the closest MBTA subway stations and buses.  Each station and bus has a color-coded box to indicate the different subway lines.  In addition to color-coding and station names, the distance to the station is also displayed on the far right.

Upon clicking on a station or bus route, you are presented with inbound and outbound trains.  For example clicking on the Government Center station, you’re presented with options for Bowdoin, Wonderland, Boston College, Cleveland Circle, and so on. Clicking on the subway train to Bowdoin, one can see when the next sets of trains are departing, as well as future scheduled trains.  This feature is essential to any college student that rides the T and keeps a tight schedule. The application’s real time data is only available on the blue, red, and orange lines and certain bus lines.   The green line does not have real time data, although it’s “static” schedule is built into the application.

In addition to the real-time location data the app makes available, you can also click a button to view the closest subway and bus routes around you displayed on a Google Map.  Upon clicking one of the numerous red pins, marking bus stops or MBTA stations, you can “show the location in Google Map,” “ride the T from current location,” or “walk here from current location.” This feature is nice if you want to see your current options for getting a ride, except you can already view station locations station location in Google Maps – they’re marked with a MBTA symbol.

Overall I would say this app is a decent three out of five.  The functionally works, the real time tracking is accurate – at least for the #43 Bus at Beacon and Park Street.  My only real complaint is the way the interface was designed.  There is no point for a home screen on this app; it serves no actual purpose other than to link you to the stations and busses.  When the user makes a downward swipe motion it should refresh the current data like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare do.  Additionally the spacing between the bottom menu navigation icons is off. They could have at least made them clearer, and spaced out properly.

Bottom line, if you’re not satisfied with the other MBTA apps out there, go for it.