Back to the office? Google Maps now tells you how packed your train will be

Google updates Maps for a new world as people return to the office.

Google is using artificial intelligence to improve Google Maps' ability to help commuters understand how busy the public transport on their journey will be.

Google is trialling new carriage-level Maps 'crowdedness prediction' technology in New York and Sydney, where it will attempt to show the real-time state of each carriage.    

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The feature relies on data from agencies like Long Island Rail Road and Transport for New South, and more cities will gain the feature soon, according to Google

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It's also expanding transit crowdedness predictions in Google Maps to over 10,000 transit agencies in 100 countries. Maps users should be able to tell if their line is "likely to have lots of open seats, hit full capacity, or be anywhere in between," Google notes.

Google introduced crowdedness predictions on public transport in mid-2019, long before commuting to the office ground to a halt in March 2020. And the feature is perhaps even more relevant now.

The predictions are based on Google's AI models, crowdsourced data from Maps users, and historical location trends that Google uses to predict future crowdedness levels for transit lines around the world. 

Given that hybrid-working arrangements will likely shake up historical peak-hour commuting patterns, the Maps feature could be useful in helping workers pick optimal times to commute. 

For example, Google's Maps data suggests that commuters are most likely to get a seat at 9am, whereas there's typically only standing room between 7-8am. The return home is far less crowded at 3pm compared with 4-5pm. 

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The new Timeline Insights tab in Google Maps also aims to help people be selective about how and where they spend their time. Android users need to turn on Location History to see the new Timeline Insights tab, which provides monthly trends about travel habits, including the distance and time a person has driven, flown or walked. It also shows how much time was spent at places like shops, airports and restaurants. 

Finally, Google is encouraging Maps users to write more reviews of local businesses they've visited. After leaving a restaurant review, users will see prompts to share useful information, such as price ranges or if whether it was takeout or delivery. This feature is live for all restaurants in the US on Android and will come to iOS soon. 

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