The Journey Planner series started with the idea of featuring apps that make the London commuter life much easier. I was particularly excited about the live departure feeds that tell you when the next bus is arriving and checked out some apps doing that. You can read the introduction and some good bus apps to try instead of waiting for the bus.
After some time, I've decided to revisit the London Journey Planner series changing the context a little bit. This time around it doesn't involve any fancy update service from Transport for London. This one, in fact, even works offline.
If you were around the App Store back in 2009, you might have seen an apparently bizarre app called Tube Exits by Wavana. As the name suggests, this simple app recommends the best carriage to board at your departure in order to get as close as possible to the exit in your destination. I know this sounds a bit extreme, but if you are a regular Underground user you now how things get during rush hour. I wouldn't be writing about it after all this time if I didn't believe it made a massive difference to my mornings. Yep, an actual iPhone app that saves you time.
So let's say you are traveling to a station you're not very familiar with and you're running late for your appointment. While waiting for the next train on the platform, it's getting more crowded and more delays are being announced. In this type of situations, when there's nothing else but waiting, it's precisely when I remember to check Tube Exits.
The app remembers your past searches and your most frequent journeys. Adding a new one is as simple as selecting a station from a list of recently used, by line or by text search. Once you select the station of departure and destination, the app gives you a number of options to get there. This is tremendously useful and could easily replace TfL's own Journey Planner, as it provides a time estimate of the journey and alerts such as the presence of escalators, adjacent platforms and even 'substantial effort required' — that must be the Bank Monument change.
Once the route has been selected a slick animation slides in indicating the recommended carriage to get on and end up closer to the exit at your destination. No more walking the whole platform slowed down by people with trolleys and prams. The first times I used it I didn't even realise, but he animation also indicated the direction of the travel. This avoids you having to guess more or less where the second carriage will be on the platform.
Enough said? Does this actually work? During my testing I relied completely on the information provided and always got close to the exit correctly. There is a button where you can report a better option which makes you doubt about the accuracy of the system, but I never encountered a problem with it.
In theory this works pretty well but if you're new to the app and hasn't learned your most frequent trips, there is a lot of data entry to do. Even scrolling through more than five journeys can be confusing as you tend to forget that you can reverse the direction of the journey without having to add a new entry. The interface feels very adequate and minimal, containing just enough information in a catchy fashion. The use of colour to indicate Tube lines is very convenient, and as I said before, it can replace a map of the network thanks to its change calculator and the time estimates.
Looking back to the app just before writing my final thoughts made me realise the little time I spend using Tube Exits. I've neglected the Favourites tab where you can store the frequent journeys. Instead, I use the app just like my phone: browsing though the recent entries hoping to find the one I'm looking for. Since we are all animals of customs, it's quite easy to remember the place to stand on the platform if you take a combination regularly.
The area I found very powerful is the planning itself, clever and straight forward, making it the perfect companion for iPhone users visiting the capital or Londoners taking unusual lines. The app is also available for Paris and Berlin and I expect it to be equally good. If you used the Tube, this is a no-brainer.