Canada's a big place, but getting around its biggest cities shouldn't be a big task.
There are dozens of great transit apps out there, often built for a single city's unique bus or metro system. But the best apps are the ones that undertake the difficult task of consolidating data from dozens — hundreds — of cities, arraying accurate arrival and departure times, directions, service messages and more in intuitive ways.
My favourite of the four apps being profiled, Transit App is the only app in our list developed in Canada. By default, the app opens to the closest transit stops, be it bus, metro, or streetcar, with a gesture-based interface that feels built for touch.
Transit App isn't overly complicated, which is its greatest asset. A universal search bar offers the ability to enter a destination address, for which the shortest and/or most direct route is outlined in a list. The app's ebullient colour scheme differentiates it from the rest of the market, and the developer recently added some killer new features, including:
- Departure reminders, with alarm
- Stop announcements
- Service disruption announcements
- Bike / car share integration
Transit App supports most Canadian cities with open data support, including Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and many others. For the full list, check out Transit's Regions page.
Moovit isn't as well known to Canadians as some of the other choices, but the San Francisco-based company has done an amazing job building one of the best transit apps around.
Like Transit App, Moovit's strength is its simplicity. The Android app opens to a map overview above a list of nearby stations and stops showing, if available, the latest live departure times. Similarly, a universal search bar makes it easy to get directions to a particular destination. But Moovit differentiates itself from the pack with Live Ride, a notification-friendly real-time tracking feature that keeps you informed about potential changes or improvements to your trip while it's happening. If, for some reason, a subway stoppage is detected on your way to the station, Moovit will redirect you immediately.
The service recently added a few excellent features, including:
- a Notification Center
- Service Alerts and Line Maps
- Cross-platform account synchronization
Moovit also boasts one of the largest collection of Canadian cities — 50 in total, including smaller cities that are not supported by other apps. For the full list, check out Moovit's Cities page.
An ambitious and often-complicated app, Citymapper tries to be all things to all transit-goers. From offline map support to a custom commute feature, Citymapper is a beautiful example of how data can work to make your life better. It is also an example of how to overwhelm your users. When I'm planning a trip in a foreign city, I almost always use Citymapper, since its data sets are unparalleled. But when I'm trying to get from A to B in my home city, I tend to use Transit App or Moovit. But Citymapper does have one major advantage: it knows where I should stand on the subway platform to emerge near the closest exit at my destination; and it knows, with more accuracy than any other service, how long my total trip will take.
Citymapper has added a number of new features recently, including:
- Offline maps mode
- Custom "Meet me somewhere" links to share with friends
- Total trip pricing, with Uber integration
Citymapper boasts support for only three Canadian cities — Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto — because it does not just pull numbers from the city's open data sets, but builds its own. Each city is curated and approached with care.
The most well-known app in the list is also the least transit-focused. While Google Maps has access to enormous amounts of data from dozens of Canadian cities, its transit prowess is integrated into the rest of its features, which includes directions for driving, biking and walking.
Nonetheless, Google Maps has highly accurate transit data, made better by a recent redesign that makes it far easier to isolate transit directions. But Google Maps makes it considerably more difficult than the three above choices in finding departure times for nearby transit stops; instead, it wants you to enter a destination first which, for many people, is overkill. Still, the app is a great choice for those who spend a lot of time in multiple types of transportation, including transit.
Google Maps supports most large Canadian cities, and many smaller ones, too. For a full list, check out Google's Transit Maps page.
Other local options
While we've only focused on apps that offer transit directions for multiple cities in Canada, there are numerous local options available to Android users, some developed by the transit authorities themselves.
In Toronto, for instance, a popular choice is RocketMan, which offers a great overview of Toronto's Transit Commission.
In Montreal, the city's official transit authority, STM, has developed its own app, but it is reportedly buggy, and has skimmed a lot of its design from Transit App.
In Vancouver, TransitDB Vancouver offers a comprehensive overview of the city's TransLink system.
Did we miss one of your favourite transit apps? Let us know your favourites in the comments below!