I hesitate to say this year is worse than last year, but there are still a lot of things we're adjusting to when it comes to day-to-day life — especially out and about while traveling. We might have been able to hunker down for the last year, but with things like work obligations and family that haven't seen us in ages, we can't stay at home forever. To make it all a bit easier, Google Maps is rolling out a few new tools to help you navigate the "new normal."
To start, Google is addressing one of my own biggest fears: super-crowded mass transit. The era of jostling buttcheek to buttcheek with a stranger on a train is probably over for the near future, and Google is expanding its machine learning-powered AI predictions for transit crowdedness to over 10,000 transit agencies in 100 countries — that means it probably now includes yours, if it didn't before.
New York and Sydney will also benefit from a pilot for live crowdedness information down to the individual car level on trains, so you can further optimize your routing on-demand right down to where to stand on the platform to get the least crowded (and potentially safest) experience.
Google also has some general advice that its data-trawling has dug up, though some of it is common sense. The best time to snag a seat in the morning is after 9am and a little before rush hour. (Mild "duh.")
To better keep track of where you've been, Google is also rolling out a new Insights tab for the Timeline feature on Android. It will give you monthly trends about which sorts of transit you use the most often and how far you've traveled with them, plus time spent at certain categories of places. So, if you're worried about your exposure, you can see if there are any trends you might not be aware of in your travel habits and address them or try to better ration specific activities or methods of transit.
Those sorts of changes and the general feeling of being trapped even as things are getting "better" might leave us all feeling pretty down, so Google's also highlighting last year's Trips feature/tab — apparently now widely rolled out, according to Google, though we're pretty sure most folks have had it for many months. The feature also lives in the Timeline and can help you reminisce and reflect on past travels, or find a little inspiration for new ones.
Lastly, reviews in Google Maps are also getting a more detailed touch-up, with a handful of extra questions for more granular information like specific quantities spent per person, what you ordered, and whether you ate in or ordered out, now live for restaurants the US on Android and iOS, and coming to other business types and markets in the future.
Google also highlights a handful of features in Maps you can take advantage of to reduce your risks in the modern era, like using contactless payments, enabling the COVID layer to see what risk in an area is like, making reservations ahead of time (which you can do at some venues right from Maps), and checking things like business hours and any published COVID precautions based on listings before you leave.
Maps can't make it perfectly safe to travel —that's up to time, the vaccine rollout, and our general behaviors over the coming months — but these tools do make it easier to assess risk and make an informed decision. And as someone who is immunocompromised and forced to exert extra effort in a world that ignorantly refuses to take reasonable precautions or get immunized, I'm looking forward to using them.