Why shouldn’t you blindly trust Google Maps in the Bay Area?

Google Maps has become an essential part of our lives. May it be a road trip, exploring a new city, using public transportation, or even going to the grocery store, we have become more and more dependent on it.

I have been living in Atlanta for about 4 years now. Though I rarely use public transportation, a few of my friends use it for the daily commute and have never (or maybe rarely) experienced any glitch or incorrect scheduling of information through Google Maps. For public transportation, I do have used Google maps in over 10 countries and was never disappointed. But recently I moved to San Jose for an internship and had been walking more than I had to, just because I had been following Google Maps blindly. Not only that, it even asked me to walk to the adjacent station, in the opposite direction, when the train station was right in front of me.

San Jose, CA:

The place I was staying in San Jose was about 45 mins (20 mins of walking followed by 25 mins of train) commute to my workplace. Instead of using a rental car or ride-share, I decided to use public transportation as it seemed reasonable in terms of expenses, quality of service, and timings. Once this decision was made, the first thing for me was to figure out the nearest train station. It happened to be that there were two nearby, one at about 1.2 miles (Penetencia) and the other about 0.8 miles (Berryessa). The logical choice for me would have been the Berryessa station, but when I used Google maps, it asked me to walk to the Penetencia Station. Well, having great experience in the past, I believed the Maps, thinking that maybe the train only stopped at the station in one direction. But whenever I would take the train from Penetencia, it always used to stop at Berryessa.

So one day, I decided to walk to Berryessa instead of Penetencia. When I reached Berryessa, I checked the Maps again, and this is what it gave me

So it asked me to take a train from Berryessa to Penetencia from across the platform, get off at Penetencia, walk across the platform, and then take the same train towards Berryessa. It not only asked me to take trains unnecessarily but also asked me to walk when there was no need at all. I tried to think of any possible logical reasoning for this, but couldn’t come up with any. If it isn’t clear from the screenshots above, the animation below will help

Sunnyvale, CA:

Maybe this could be one glitch in the Maps, and I understand it will be unfair of me to generalize it to the Bay Area. I believed that until a similar thing happened to me in Santa Clara. A few weeks down, I had to go visit a friend. I used Google Maps for the VTA train schedule and routing. There were two train stations nearby where I could get off, and Maps asked me to get off at the one which was farther away making me walk an extra 0.4 miles/8 minutes (to be honest, I don’t mind, but people do), even though the closest train station was on the way. The following snapshots are from Google Maps

I even checked my Google Maps route setting that maybe I opted for some option that made me walk more, but that wasn’t the case either. I even tried the ‘Less walking’ option, and the result was the same.

Milpitas, Santa Clara and Cupertino, CA:

I shared my experience with my friends and colleagues and they reported a similar experience with Google Maps. So I came to believe that it wasn’t a time-specific or location-specific issue. I am not sure about other cities in the Bay Area, but I have data that reports similar behavior in the area shown in the figure below.

My two cents

I am not saying Google Maps is wrong, it’s just not efficient in Bay Area for public transportation. So instead of blindly following it, just go through the route to verify that it makes sense, or identify if there is a better option unless you like walking and are not in a hurry.

If this article was helpful to you, feel free to clap, share and respond to it. If want to learn more about Machine Learning and Data Science, follow me @Aqeel Anwar or connect with me on LinkedIn.

PhD candidate @ GeorgiaTech | ML Engineer | Writer | Researcher | Traveler | www.aqeel-anwar.com | www.twitter.com/_aqeelanwar