Let’s face it, driving around the city and being stuck in traffic is a frustrating experience. The featured image above shows what drivers have to go through getting in and out of downtown Toronto.
I have tried various apps in the last several years. There was Tapster (acquired by Nokia which stopped development after 2014 ), Beat the Traffic, Google Maps, Apple Maps. Of course, there are other tools you can use to get traffic information. You can get traffic updates from the radio. But it only gives highlights of major highway conditions or major accidents in 1 or 2 minute soundbites. And built-in car navigation systems are useless in a avoiding traffic congestions unless you subscribe to SirusXM traffic, if it is available in your car. And even if you do, it will most likely display major highways.
I would like to review two apps I use daily. These apps can help navigate around traffic congestion frustration and get to your destination a little faster.
Inrix XD Traffic
Inrix claims to provide detailed traffic speeds every 250 meters across 4.5 million miles of road in 40 countries. Their main business is data mining and sophisticated analysis of traffic data from local and provincial/state governments, private partners and connected cars and devices.
Inrix is usually the source for Google and other navigation developers to power the traffic data used for their web and mobile apps.
When you first open the app, it opens the Traffic News view. Above the map is the current state of the traffic conditions in the city you are in. Free-Flow (green), Mild (grey), Moderate (orange) and Heavy (red). The map gives you an overview of the major highways in and around the city. Below the map are current snapshots of traffic cameras that are in your area. If you scroll down further, it will list incidents on your route or around your city. When you setup your Work or Home places, it automatically display the commute time to Work then you are at Home or vice versa; when you open the app.
The app has some other cool features, you can set up departure alert times for your favourite places. Turn on Traffic alerts for police, hazards, accidents and congestion. The app also gives you the ability to forecast when the best time to leave. You can also email or text your arrival time.
If you want to set up more Places that you frequently travel to, you can do an in-app purchase to upgrade to their premium lifetime subscription for $9.99 ($11.99 CDN)
Inrix is technically more a traffic app than a navigation app. The app will plot your two different routes showing a black border along your primary route and a gray border along your secondary route. The app will automatically re-route if you go off course. There are icons on the map indicating congestion, closures and construction zones.
I have used this app since 2009 when I lived around Calgary and now in Toronto. The arrival times are pretty accurate barring any sudden accidents that occur along your route.
The only thing missing is turn by turn voice guidance or popups when you need to turn. This is why I use another app in the background to give me audio turn by turn directions.
The Waze app (which was acquired by Google) takes a different approach in getting you around the city. It relies on crowdsourcing to plan the best route to your destination. The app is used by over 50 million users and is loaded with features such as:
- real-time traffic and road info updates from app users from their reported alerts including accidents, hazards, police traps, red light cameras, road closures
- automatic rerouting as conditions change on the road
- learns your frequent destinations, commuting hours, and preferred routes
- find the cheapest gas on your route
- audio and visual alerts on the estimated time in a traffic jam
- hands free alerting of traffic conditions
- send your ETA and real-time drive to update who you’re meeting
- sync with your Facebook and calendar events
The setup is fairly simple. You register via an SMS, Facebook or create an account via email. Next steps are to go to your settings and change a few of them.
Under the Sound Settings, you have a choice of different voices that provides you guidance via phone speaker or Bluetooth audio. The default Jane voice includes street names. On my Kia Optima paired with my iPhone, I can listen to the radio and the Waze app will interrupt the radio with any voice navigation and traffic alerts.
Under the Navigation setting, enable Avoid Toll roads unless you prefer to drive on highways like the 407. You can also select your routing style, either fastest or shortest.
Lastly, you can set up how the app listens to your voice commands to alert other Waze users to traffic conditions. You can tap the screen with 3 fingers or wave your hand once or twice to activate. You can say “Report Traffic – Moderate, Heavy or Standstill” This by far the safest way to report a traffic condition. Manually reporting makes you tap different items and is very distracting while driving.
The main screen auto zooms in when you are idling to give detailed traffic information It shows the current speed of the traffic flow of the road you are on and surrounding roads. One of the added features I like is that the app alerts you the estimated time in traffic jams. First a voice alert and then an indicator on the main screen. When stopped at a light, various popups will appeared to alert you on traffic and road alert coming up on your route. It will also display a popup alert telling you there is a Tim Horton’s close by. Clicking on the ad re-routes you there if you need java boost.
One of the other cool feature is ability to send an ETA via SMS or email to the person you are meeting, just like Inrix. But Waze goes a step further. If the recipient clicks on the provided link, they can watch in real-time your driving process to destination with up-to-date ETA times.
To prevent taking my eyes off the road, I use a car mount to hold my iPhone that is in plain view. It is a combination of ProClip for the base to securely attached to the dashboard and RAM’s X-Grip universal holder to hold my phone. Waze is running the background and I have Inrix on the screen so I can quickly glance at the road conditions in the area with its tri-colour indicators.
With all the distracted driving laws enforced around North America, Waze is the safer app to use. With a wave of your hand and speaking about road conditions and incidents along with audio notifications, keeps your eyes focused on the road and not on the device.
My goal with this post is to bring awareness to those two valuable apps. The more people using these apps, the better our daily commute will be.