IN A world of smartphones and contactless payments, you would have thought that paper tickets on public transport would have gone the way of the bus conductor. Unfortunately, the 21st century has been a late arrival on our transport network.
You can buy tickets online, but the process too often involves having to queue at a ticket machine before you board, to print out your documents.
Some parts of the North are better served than others. Travel South Yorkshire has an app on “pilot release” that lets you buy weekly or monthly season tickets and load them on to a smart card – though the consensus of reviews from early adopters suggests it’s still some way short of its destination. West Yorkshire Metro doesn’t have an app at all.
Some of the individual bus companies offer apps of their own, but integration with each other’s services is not something in which they have a vested interest.
So, your best bet for finding one that helps you take some of the strain out of your daily commute will depend on which services you use. Here are some of the free ones you might consider.
Train tickets: TheTrainline is a simple-to-use service, and will, if you install its app on your phone, generate a barcode which you can show at the ticket gate, instead of a piece of paper. But it does charge a booking fee.
Northern Rail’s app offers similar functionality for its own trains only, and adds real-time service information. But it’s a curate’s egg, and currently the bad reviews on Google’s app store outnumber the good ones by almost two to one.
Train times: Despite the removal of certain restrictions on third-party developers, there are currently fewer apps available than there once were, and National Rail Enquiries plugs only its own, which is functional but littered with ads. Android users can take advantage of its home screen widget to check times at a glance, but the window occupies more space than the information justifies, and you still have to launch the app to drill down.
Bus times: Most transport authorities maintain websites of real-time information about services, and if all you want to do is check the current departures from your regular stops to and from work, a couple of shortcuts on your home screen may serve you better than an app. Do this by bookmarking the individual web page for each stop.
All-in-one: Moovit covers most if not all of the trains, buses and trams in your vicinity. You can’t use it to buy tickets but you can check times and plan routes. However, its American terminology and the volume of information it contains, plus its habit of trying to book you an Uber, makes it as hard to navigate as the M62 at rush hour.
Winner: You shouldn’t need to download Google Maps because you almost certainly have it already, and it contains more information about public transport than you perhaps thought. Up-to-date bus and train times are now integrated, and if you tell it about your regular journeys it will alert you to delays in advance. The app is a resource hog but if you have an Android phone you can’t remove it – so you might at well make it work for you. And it does at least get updated regularly, which is more than can be said for the trains.