What data feed does Google Maps use?

Horizon22

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When planning a route that involves a rail journey, where do Google Maps get their information from? I am at this point assuming this is not from other standard industry sources for the following reason:

The other day at Cannon St, there was some low-level disruption; no major delays but platform changes were in operation from the positioning of trains. I was meeting a friend due to travel on a SE service who told me "I'll just meet you on P7, you get on". However there was no train on P7; the service we wanted was on P5. He stated that's not what Google Maps said and he shared a screenshot with me - I then proceeded to tell him I was physically on the train on P5 and if you turn up there you won't see anything. When we met up it was a bit of light-hearted humour but right up until departure time Google Maps was still showing P7. I think I also a heard a manual announcement advising passengers of the same thing that our service was on P5. CityMapper, RTT & Trainline for instance were all showing the correct platform. This also isn't the first time I've seen this; whilst working I've had people ask me where the train to XXX is that's meant to be on the platform we're standing in front of even though all the station screens show different.

Obviously for those less familiar with stations, this is a problem as Google Maps is by far one of the most popular wayfinding apps out there and continually showing incorrect information, even after amendments to service whilst other apps cope fine. So why is this not feeding through?
 
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SargeNpton

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If Google Maps (or any other journey planner) uses the planned timetable data, which is only updated once per day, it will not show short-notice platform changes. Only those journey planners that also get a feed from Darwin will have access to on-the-day platform alterations.
 

Steve Harris

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When planning a route that involves a rail journey, where do Google Maps get their information from? I am at this point assuming this is not from other standard industry sources for the following reason:

The other day at Cannon St, there was some low-level disruption; no major delays but platform changes were in operation from the positioning of trains. I was meeting a friend due to travel on a SE service who told me "I'll just meet you on P7, you get on". However there was no train on P7; the service we wanted was on P5. He stated that's not what Google Maps said and he shared a screenshot with me - I then proceeded to tell him I was physically on the train on P5 and if you turn up there you won't see anything. When we met up it was a bit of light-hearted humour but right up until departure time Google Maps was still showing P7. I think I also a heard a manual announcement advising passengers of the same thing that our service was on P5. CityMapper, RTT & Trainline for instance were all showing the correct platform. This also isn't the first time I've seen this; whilst working I've had people ask me where the train to XXX is that's meant to be on the platform we're standing in front of even though all the station screens show different.

Obviously for those less familiar with stations, this is a problem as Google Maps is by far one of the most popular wayfinding apps out there and continually showing incorrect information, even after amendments to service whilst other apps cope fine. So why is this not feeding through?
As the post above suggests, I would presume it's info is set from the "scheduled" (what platform the train was planned to use) data. I'm guessing they don't have access to live data or don't want to use it for some reason (perhaps due to software?).
Unfortunately google maps is helpful but has many flaws (another being street view with contributions from the public who tend to drop the pin ten's (if not hundreds) of metres away from where the image was actually taken).
 

Horizon22

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If Google Maps (or any other journey planner) uses the planned timetable data, which is only updated once per day, it will not show short-notice platform changes. Only those journey planners that also get a feed from Darwin will have access to on-the-day platform alterations.

That is my assumption too, but for an app that can tell you real time traffic information (I know this is based on the userbase but it does demonstrate their technology level), it seems very underwhelming to not use real-time rail data when so many other apps / rivals are able to do so with absolutely no issue. It's not like Google can't afford it.
 

Steve Harris

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That is my assumption too, but for an app that can tell you real time traffic information (I know this is based on the userbase but it does demonstrate their technology level), it seems very underwhelming to not use real-time rail data when so many other apps / rivals are able to do so with absolutely no issue. It's not like Google can't afford it.
True.

I'm no computer geek, but I'm guessing it is to do with algorithms and software and how you search that data.... We just need a data analyst to come along and explain what can/can't be done !
 

pelli

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The Google Maps app does usually have live data, with trains shown as being "On time" or "Delayed X min" as well as platform allocations, but when no such data is available it shows "Scheduled" with the scheduled time and booked platform instead. The attached screenshot shows a recent situation at Birmingham New Street with a mixture of non-live data and live data (with some live-data trains having platforms and others not).

When I checked earlier today there was no live data at all, so must have been a temporary glitch. It's odd if they have data feed issues while other live data providers are working fine, though.

The question is how to make it clear to non-savvy users that "Scheduled" means "no live data" rather than e.g. "not cancelled", or worse, "running as scheduled". (Like how "Route: Any Permitted" can be interpreted as either "you may take any permitted route" or "any route you take is permitted".)

He stated that's not what Google Maps said and he shared a screenshot with me

Can you check the screenshot and see whether the train was just "Scheduled" or actually had live data with the wrong platform?
 

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Davester50

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I've noticed quite a few heavily delayed services showing up on Google Transit Departures screen, which are completely wrong.
 

Horizon22

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Can you check the screenshot and see whether the train was just "Scheduled" or actually had live data with the wrong platform?

It was showing "On Time" (and it was) but the platform was incorrect.
 

nlogax

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For public transport data, Google Maps requires data in the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format. The default open feeds of National Rail and Network Rail use different formats, so I expect Google to use a different feed from other apps and websites. It might be that it isn't updated in real-time.

Yes - generally these feeds have to go through some sort of third party conversion specialist such as ITO World or Transport API though I'm not sure who Google specifically uses for their map products.
 

A Challenge

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I've noticed quite a few heavily delayed services showing up on Google Transit Departures screen, which are completely wrong.
I've been noticing that, generally evening trains delayed into the early hours of the morning
 

FenMan

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I've been noticing that, generally evening trains delayed into the early hours of the morning

Google can also get confused with clockface timetables. The number of times I've seen Google Maps reporting a train is exactly 60 minutes late ....
 

pelli

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It was showing "On Time" (and it was) but the platform was incorrect.

That is very disappointing. I checked Real Time Trains for platform alterations and found two examples (screenshots attached) where the Google Maps app shows live data but the wrong platform (which turns out to be the originally scheduled one), while the National Rail app and Real Time Trains website both show the new platform. I have not yet found any example of Google Maps showing an altered platform correctly, so I haven't ruled out the possibility that it cannot handle platform alterations at all...

It's weird that Google Maps does not show the platform at all for many trains that it has live data for, even when National Rail does show it.



I've noticed quite a few heavily delayed services showing up on Google Transit Departures screen, which are completely wrong.
I've been noticing that, generally evening trains delayed into the early hours of the morning

Currently you can observe this at every London Terminal I checked, and all the cases I've seen are delays of approximately an hour, with exactly an hour being very common. It's very apparent in the browser version where trains are sorted by scheduled departure time rather than predicted depatrure time, so all the allegedly-delayed trains from the past hour are bunched together at the top (see attachments).

Google can also get confused with clockface timetables. The number of times I've seen Google Maps reporting a train is exactly 60 minutes late ....

I also thought that this could be due to misattributing live information about a later train to an earlier train, but the St Pancras screenshot shows a Eurostar as incorrectly delayed, and that's the only departure they have this afternoon. (Edit: Also, the 16:10 LBG to Cannon Street shown as 17:14 was in fact delayed to 16:14, whereas the 17:10 ran on time. However, other anomalies such as 16:24 showing as 17:21 couldn't be explained by either train.) Maybe we should investigate further late at night when there's no next train...

Could it be a Daylight Savings Time issue? Does anyone remember if this occurs in the winter as well?

Curiously, all the delayed trains are shown with a platform allocation, so maybe the two issues are connected somehow?
 

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Horizon22

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Could it be a Daylight Savings Time issue? Does anyone remember if this occurs in the winter as well?

Curiously, all the delayed trains are shown with a platform allocation, so maybe the two issues are connected somehow?

A bit embarrassing if a company as large as Google can't deal with DST 2 months later...
 

SargeNpton

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The source timetable data does not differentiate between GMT and BST (which only become an issue for those trains that are in transit on the last Sunday mornings of March and October).
 

A Challenge

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Maybe we should investigate further late at night when there's no next train...
That's when I saw it, Google was giving me trains at 0100 arriving at 0400 when I asked for transport directions about midnight (it automatically comes up leave now), generally delayed from about 1900 or 2000 or so
 

pepperpot80

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Google use ITO World and they do convert Darwin data.
Just to ward off some of the hearsay, Tom is correct. Probably the correct course of action is to report findings to Google, who will pass it straight on to ito world so the problem can be looked into. I'm not sure if ito world use a wider range of sources than Darwin, nor which of the Darwin feeds they use, so hard to comment on what might be amiss. It's also worth mentioning there are quite a few links in the chain of data supply that makes up the Darwin feeds, so plenty of room for something relatively minor to have fallen over without someone noticing.

National Rail Enquiries journey planner and real-time information is from SilverRail who have their own secret sauce interrogation of various feeds, including Darwin, to drive platform predictions, all of which is alluded to deep in the National Rail Enquiries site:
OJP derives routing information from SilverRail’s journey planning engine known as IPTIS (Integrated Passenger Transport Information System) and ticket availability from the National Reservation Service (NRS). It also accesses real-time information directly from Darwin, meaning all journey plans take account of delays, schedule changes and last minute cancellations made by the train companies.

Bear in mind that Real Time Trains (as part of it's own secret sauce) uses signalling data in addition to timetable and live updates to support and inform platform data, as outlined in the FAQs:
Why did Realtime Trains show a platform before the screens at the station did?
Realtime Trains uses signalling data to determine the position of trains. At some stations, the screens are programmed not to show a train’s platform until the inbound train is “ready for departure” (usually after the train has been cleaned.)

So, no, DST is not the root cause (although it's a very good guess and a good shout for issues in early summer / mid-autumn, though more likely to occur on bus and other transport modes as rail operates strictly in UTC if I recall correctly). I've also seen a lot of very weird journey predictions and departure boards from Google on SWR, so I wonder if there's a calculation going awry (e.g. a train has just left and is not reporting departed at origin, but is showing a +1hr delay at subsequent calls, with potentially ruinous effect on Google's otherwise excellent "last journey" predictions - one more than one occasion recently I'd have been left stranded if I'd followed Google to the letter...)
 

40129

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Something I've noticed with Google maps is that it invariably shows the road journey as being quicker than the equivalent rail journey. I've even known this happen when the train I'm using for the bulk of the journey is scheduled to travel at 125 mph for a large part of the journey and ISTR that the maximum speed limit on public highways is 60-70 mph.

Note that I live within 5 minutes walk of my local station and the journey time to the interchange from where I catch the high speed train is 9 minutes
 

jon0844

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There's certainly something odd with their feeds and back when we had tighter lockdown, I recall some route planning by public transport hid many options on public transport (especially to Scotland) as if the app was trying to pretend train services weren't still running - irrespective of whether you were morally supposed to use them.

It also seems an even bigger issue with real time information for buses.
 

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I have noted in the past that Google Maps often differs with London Bus times compared to apps powered by the TfL API, or, indeed, TfL’s own website.
 

jon0844

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I have noted in the past that Google Maps often differs with London Bus times compared to apps powered by the TfL API, or, indeed, TfL’s own website.

Outside of London, it seems unable to get real-time information from operators that do have the necessary data. Ticketer is now used by many companies, but I assume the data from them gets passed through various places/agencies before Google gets to see it (or not). Or maybe they never get the data at all?

In Hertfordshire, I assumed Herts County Council would collect the data and pass it on, but that doesn't seem to be the case so Google just shows timetabled information that is particularly useless for buses given you have no way of knowing if it's even running, let alone where it is, or if it went early etc.

Today, it's even more useful to know the status as Ticketer can show how many people are onboard a bus as well as where it is.

Bus operators using Ticketer seem to provide their own app to show their own buses, but that's far from ideal and Google really needs to be showing this (and actively seeking to obtain the data if it wants to continue to push itself as being the ultimate go-to travel planner).
 

takno

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Bus operators using Ticketer seem to provide their own app to show their own buses, but that's far from ideal and Google really needs to be showing this (and actively seeking to obtain the data if it wants to continue to push itself as being the ultimate go-to travel planner).
Are they really pushing themselves as that? Seems like a second-rate sat nav and a third rate public transport planner that can barely be bothered to push itself at all. It's alright if you can't find the actual local site, but otherwise why bother?
 

Steve Harris

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Are they really pushing themselves as that? Seems like a second-rate sat nav and a third rate public transport planner that can barely be bothered to push itself at all. It's alright if you can't find the actual local site, but otherwise why bother?
I would have a tendency to agree with that.
 

jon0844

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Are they really pushing themselves as that? Seems like a second-rate sat nav and a third rate public transport planner that can barely be bothered to push itself at all. It's alright if you can't find the actual local site, but otherwise why bother?

Google Maps is very much trying to be a very powerful, respected, navigation tool. With Android Auto, many people are likely using it as an alternative to expensive in-car systems. Likewise, they likely use Waze which Google now owns too.

Big Data is what makes Google powerful, and so it absolutely does want to be top in things like route planning, as well as having up to date information on all establishments, and metrics like how busy a restaurant (or train, or cinema) is at any given moment.

During the pandemic, it was quickly found that there were many flaws to Google's data - in that when places closed or changed their opening hours, Google data was woefully inaccurate*. They'd argue that a shop/restaurant/bar now has a responsibility to update their own information, or else the information is crowd sourced (and many people, myself included, earn points or kudos for making corrections and answering questions about a place) which likely wasn't really a thing when people were stuck at home.

* It brought home how the sarcastic responses from people asking if a shop was open with 'Google it' was bad advice. Like having inaccurate transport information, Google isn't always helpful.
 

dosxuk

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Google's aim is not to create a world beating travel / navigation app, it's to make one that is good enough that most people will use it by default. They don't care about making your journey as easy as possible, they care about knowing where you're going, when you go there, what you want to do when you get there and when you're planning on coming back. Providing really time travel information is just the carrot to get you to hand over that data.
 

jon0844

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Google's aim is not to create a world beating travel / navigation app, it's to make one that is good enough that most people will use it by default. They don't care about making your journey as easy as possible, they care about knowing where you're going, when you go there, what you want to do when you get there and when you're planning on coming back. Providing really time travel information is just the carrot to get you to hand over that data.

As I said, big data is very valuable and people need to want to use it for Google to mine all that data.

I suspect that in the grand scheme of things, Google isn't that bothered about accuracy everywhere compared to how it provides information in London, San Francisco, New York etc. There are many features in beta limited to small areas.
 

L401CJF

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I find Google Maps useful for checking scheduled departures from a station, but I find the live times to be a bit hit and miss.

Not railway related, but the "live" Google Maps feed often shows late running buses as cancelled when infact they aren't.
 
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Tom

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Are they really pushing themselves as that? Seems like a second-rate sat nav and a third rate public transport planner that can barely be bothered to push itself at all. It's alright if you can't find the actual local site, but otherwise why bother?
Whether or not they are pushing themselves as that, parts of the railway industry actively sees them as that. The general view is that they should not bother engaging with anyone other than the mammoths of Google or Microsoft as few customers will gain an active benefit from it. Of course, they fully expect that the mammoths will be fully engaged with the one version of the truth ethos and be one of the best citizens of it... this thread has actively proved otherwise.
 

takno

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Whether or not they are pushing themselves as that, parts of the railway industry actively sees them as that. The general view is that they should not bother engaging with anyone other than the mammoths of Google or Microsoft as few customers will gain an active benefit from it. Of course, they fully expect that the mammoths will be fully engaged with the one version of the truth ethos and be one of the best citizens of it... this thread has actively proved otherwise.
I suspect that there are people at management who regard their own systems as mere pesky details. If their data isn't processed correctly via Google's hopelessly generic data format and systems then they probably blame their IT department for somehow messing it up, or their stations for not looking enough like American stations.

There are plenty of places in the world where there is no ability at all for services to switch platforms. A megacorp looking down from atop their money mountain probably therefore just assumes it can't happen anywhere
 

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