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RailBandit Mobile Application Reviewed


A couple of weeks ago, a representative from RailBandit in Hamilton, New Jersey, contacted me about a cellphone app their company had released. RailBandit is a mobile application allowing users to access commuter rail, light rail and subway schedules on their cellphone. Recently, the company had added GO Transit’s rail schedules to their list, and they wanted to advertise that fact to potential customers in the Greater Toronto Area. I agreed to accept a free download of the application so I could test out the program and review it.

I had a chance to test RailBandit in real-world conditions during a trip I took to Toronto this past Saturday. I got on board the GO Train at Aldershot GO station early in the morning for a trip to Rouge Hill, and accessed RailBandit on my iPhone 4.

The app was able to build a schedule for me quickly, using a user-friendly wizard to help me access the correct rail line, find the station nearest to me, call up the destination and call up the next few departures on the line. RailBandit downloads schedules via WiFi or your cellphone’s 3G network, and it stores them on your cellphone so that they are always available, even when cellphone service isn’t. Schedules are updated automatically. There is also the provision for emergency service announcements.

I found the application to be useful, although I ran into a couple of glitches that the designers may not have anticipated. My trip from Aldershot to Rouge Hill crossed Union, and RailBandit treats the Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East GO Train lines as separate lines, because GO Transit does so in its schedules. The application builds in certain tolerances for transfers, not scheduling a transfer if a user has less than five minutes in which to make it (users can change this in the app’s settings to something tighter).

GO Trains are interlined on the Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines and, on Saturday morning, the wait at Union station is only three minutes long. But according to GO, and according to RailBandit, this is still treated as a transfer. As the wait time on the train is less than the five minute default minimum limit, RailBandit does not schedule the direct trip between Aldershot and Rouge Hill station. The expectation of the software is that I’d take the GO Train from Aldershot to Union, get off the train to Union, watch as it pulls out of the station towards Rouge Hill and other points east, and wait 57 minutes to catch the train coming in behind. For those familiar with GO’s schedules, this is an easy glitch to catch and correct for, but those less familiar with GO might find this glitch to be more than a little annoying.

The other stumbling block for me about RailBandit was its price. At $9.99, RailBandit is pricy for GO Transit cellphone users who might be used to apps costing no more than $2.99. RailBandit is in competition with a fan-produced app called GOToronto, which offers its own GO schedules, service announcements, and upcoming departures from Union. True, it may not be quite as reliable as RailBandit, but it’s also just $0.99. Likewise, there is an application called iGO, which has received good customer reviews, and is also available for just $0.99.

The thing to remember about RailBandit, however, is that it’s not just about GO Transit. They have a fair chunk of New York City and New Jersey covered, as well as Amtrak services, Chicago, a fair chunk of California’s offerings, and many more. Somebody using RailBandit in New York City, Washington, Portland or San Francisco would get a lot more out of the service, but it is way overpriced for people who only need it to access GO Transit’s schedules. I’d suggest that the app’s builders consider offering the base application for free, and charging $0.99 ($1.99 tops) for each individual set of schedules users choose to download. This would tailor the application closer to the needs of its users, and could net the company more users and more revenue in the long term.

RailBandit is a slick and efficient mobile application for commuters across North America. Tourists paying a visit to New York or Chicago might find it very useful in getting around. Unfortunately it is way overpriced for what it currently offers to the Toronto market.