Most of the apps that help you get to work or run errands, such as the popular QuickMuni and Routesy, are made by third-party developers. What happens when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) helps develop its own app?
Featured in commercials and on the SFMTA’s webpage, Muni+ is the product of a partnership between Muni and Oakland-based developer, Sky Highways. It carries Muni’s logo and endorsement, but does it also run with insider expertise?
To find out, I set out to take 10 rides on Muni guided by Muni+.
Note: this review was performed on a Galaxy Note II, an Android phone. Presumably this is a supported device as it is featured — upside down — in Muni+ advertisements. A brief iPhone review will follow at the end of this piece.
For the first trip I decided to catch the 22-Fillmore at 16th and Valencia streets. As I walked up to the stop, Muni+ indicated the bus would be arriving in 12 minutes. I put the phone back into my pocket and the 22 immediately pulled into the stop. A concerning first result.
I left the 22 at Market and Church, and headed for the F-Market line. Muni+ gave me The F’s estimated arrival time: 0 minutes and 0 seconds. Fifteen minutes later, the F arrived, and Muni+ then crashed twice on my brief ride to Market and Van Ness.
For my third trip, I decided to head back to the Mission and set myself a destination — 24th and Folsom streets. This is when I realized that (on Android, at least) Muni+ has no trip planner. After selecting routes at random, I had to use Google Maps to find my route.
Once Google told me where to go, Muni+ accurately predicted the arrival of the 49-Van Ness, but then crashed again on the bus.
In total, Muni+ accurately reported the bus’s arrival times only 40 percent of the time, and it crashed seven times in the process. When it was wrong, Muni+ was off by an average of 12 and a half minutes. Twice Muni+ announced a bus had arrived when none had. In one instance it then accurately predicted the second bus, but the other time even that was wrong.
In theory, the estimated arrival times at all stops should mean that you can predict when you will get to your destination. However, if Muni+ is wrong about when the bus will get to your stop, it will likely be wrong about all further stops on the route.
In one instance, Muni+ correctly reported the arrival of the eastbound 22 at 16th and Dolores streets. The app correctly listed the arrival time at the next two stops, but the third was off by nine minutes.
The lack of a trip planner and the general failure to report bus arrivals made Muni+ tough to use unless you know your route by heart. If you do, then why are you using an app to get around?
The layout is also confusing. The main screen is a map — which occasionally loaded centered on Algeria. When it finds San Francisco, the map displays all the bus stops in the city at once. You can click on a stop to load its name, and again to see what routes stop there and the estimated arrival of the next two buses.
If you want to view a route, you have to scroll through a list of all routes until you find the one you want.
Muni+ also gives you the option to search for specific stops, but this feature is nearly useless. For example, “Mission and 16,” “16th and Mission,” “16th & Mission” and “16th St and Mission St” all yield no results. Want to find that stop? You have to search for precisely “16th St & Mission St. ” Nothing else will work.
In addition to these quirks, Muni+ also requests you log in each time you use it, offering “loyalty program benefits,” though it’s not clear what loyalty buys. It’s also strangely resource-intensive — in one instance, draining my battery by 38 percent in two hours.
Paul Rose, the SFMTA’s media relations manager, said the transit authority did not pay Sky Highways to develop Muni+. The two companies are in a contractual partnership that includes Clear Channel, which provides the ads that occasionally appear on the app.
Sky Highways developed the app, SFMTA promoted it and gave their stamp of approval, and going forward, the two will share advertising revenue 50/50. The contract mentions that if Muni+ fails to generate enough ad revenue in the next three to six months, it will be canceled.
Despite being downloaded more than 5,000 times on Android alone, no one I spoke to had heard of Muni+. “I use Google Maps to plan trips, and just go to NextBus.com to see when a bus is going to show up,” said Sakura Minami, 30.
Austin Johnston, 27, also preferred Google Maps, citing the ability of the app to re-orient itself to follow compass directions as you travel. “I just use Google Maps to get around wherever I am,” he said.
Others preferred Transporter and Routesy.
While future updates may improve accuracy and usability, in its current state, Muni+ is one app I’d happily miss.
For iPhone Users:
On iPhone, Muni+ does include a trip planner, and overall is much more responsive.
It loses the extra maps, but is much snappier and adds an option to view the map full-screen in landscape mode. However, the base map used on iOS is extremely crowded and confusing, and I had a hard time getting it to display street names.
The trip planner can tell you where to go and what route to take, but setting start and end points was a little confusing, with Muni+ displaying the location in terms of decimal degrees instead of address or intersection. Despite testing the iPhone version from 22nd and Mission, Muni+ insisted I was located at Market and Van Ness.
The trip planner displays four alternate routes and the time different routes will take, but doesn’t display the actual transit line associated with each route unless you click on them.
The iPhone version didn’t crash while I was using it, but at one point all the menus disappeared and I had to restart the app.