MBTA announces latest arrival: Google mapping tool for riders

By Jazmine Ulloa
Globe Correspondent / July 31, 2009

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Whether you are doing it from Beijing or Worcester, planning a trip in the Hub just got easier.

Through a partnership with Google Transit, MBTA riders will now be able to calculate their route and transit time and get walking directions by logging onto Google Maps, a Web-based application that provides transit information for cities around the world.

“This really makes a lot of information more accessible,’’ Steve Vinter, Google Boston engineering director, said yesterday at a press conference at South Station. “There are a lot of people like me who take the T to work but do not know much about the transit system outside of that.’’

The T’s website already offers scheduling information, customized planning tools, and fare information. It also recently added CharlieCard services to its site that allow users to buy cards and manage their accounts.

But Google has better technological resources and will bring a larger audience to transportation services, said Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

“First off, it is the brand; everybody knows it, everybody trusts it,’’ he said. “It has such a great reach.’’

MBTA and local officials lauded Grabauskas’s leadership on the project.

Grabauskas, who in recent days has found his leadership questioned by Governor Deval Patrick and some members of the T’s board of directors, answered questions from reporters after the conference.

But he steered clear of politics, saying the recent controversy should not distract from the day’s announcement and other MBTA accomplishments.

Bostonians have now joined the ranks of residents in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Moscow, Montreal, and some 250 other cities, who have been using Google Maps in recent years for mass transit.

But not everyone at yesterday’s news conference was trumpeting the partnership. Jonathan Kamens, 39, of Brighton said Google Maps’s public transit routes are faulty because they rely on schedules provided by the MBTA, which are sometimes wrong.

Kamens, a software engineer, said his complaints to T officials have gone unaddressed for years, which drove him to pass out fliers questioning the deal.

Lisa Rivera, a spokeswoman for the MBTA, said that the authority was unaware of his complaints but that officials would look into them.

“We have an extensive planning and scheduling department and employees who are constantly updating our system,’’ she said.

Riding on the Red Line yesterday, Katherine Spencer said the online tool sounds convenient.

“I will be using it a lot now that I know,’’ said Spencer, who works as a financial associate in downtown Boston. “I’ll Google practically anything.’’