Social Transit App Moovit Launches In New York City, Just In Time To Help All Those Hapless Tourists

The Rockettes. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Ice skating in Central Park. There’s definitely no shortage of things to see and do in New York City once the holiday season rolls around, but that means a considerable number of tourists are now trying to navigate the city’s (sometimes obtuse) public transit system.

That’s where social transit app Moovit comes in. It aims to help users simply and easily trek across cities and has just recently launched support for the Big Apple.

Here’s the Moovit formula in a nutshell — once the Android or iOS app has been installed on a smartphone, travelers can use it to plan their jaunts around New York City and determine when the next bus or train is due to arrive in real time. Unlike seemingly similar services like Google Transit and Embark, though, Moovit seeks to tap into its own users as a source for valuable transit information.

Ideally, those folks will leave it running in the background as they embark on a bus or train commute. Should they encounter any trouble spots along the way, more conscientious users can send alerts to let others know if their ride is running behind schedule, if the bus/station stop is overly crowded, or if the driver in control is just plain crazy.

If that sounds more than a little like a transit-friendly take on the Waze formula, then you’d be in good company: Waze co-founder Uri Levine is an investor and sits on the company’s board of directors. It seems like a strange relationship at first glance as both companies are bent on disrupting transportation by tapping into their respective user bases. Apparently, the distinction between social driving and social transit is considerable enough that the two companies don’t mind sharing some brainpower.

As someone who’s never really gotten the hang of public transportation (the joys of living in the suburbs, I suppose), this strikes me as a terribly clever idea with a few critical question marks. The big issue with a service like Moovit, though, is scale — unless enough people are riding around the city in question with the app running on their smartphones, there’s a good chance that you’ll find the data it can provide awfully lacking.

For what it’s worth, the service has already racked up nearly 300,000 downloads, but its user base is scattered across cities from Chicago and Los Angeles to farther-flung locales like Milan, Italy. That doesn’t do you New Yorkers much good unless you’ve got a vacation on the books, but it’s an interesting little indicator of momentum and with any luck the city will soon be full of avid transit trackers.