You’re catching up with an old friend when they tell you there’s this new bar they want to try. You might feign recognition of the name saying something like, ‘Oh yeah, I read about that somewhere, really been wanting to try it for a while.’ As your friend tries to work out if you’re lying as per, you fumble for your phone in an attempt to work out how to get there first. Said friend, who seems by this point to be more down than you with what’s cool, jumps in with, ‘I’ll just Citymapper it’.
You feel at once archaic for your choice of app, but also smugly sceptical of someone who chooses to plan their route with what must be a flimsy startup app that surely can’t challenge the likes of Google. Yet within seconds your friend has set off ahead, staring with conviction at their phone. You are left in their wake, toggling your own app furiously because you quite simply don’t want to walk 53 minutes for one drink.
Really, if you’re a Londoner and you don’t use Citymapper, you either haven’t heard of it or you’re lying to yourself. Founded in 2011, the fact it still exists and has grown to over 30 major European, US and Asian cities from its origins as a London startup demonstrates that the creators are onto something.
What Citymapper offers is a more intuitive way to get around a city, using the modes of transport someone who is looking for directions of their phone is likely to use. A long, long time ago, one’s best option was to use TFL’s journey planner, and Citymapper swooped in where Google was dragging its heels. Citymapper gets someone from A to B in the least possible time. While Google Maps might offer more functionality in its ability to see reviews and recommend places to go, it is jack of all trades where Citymapper is the master of one – getting about.
There are some neat features which have aided Londoners almost uniquely. Partnerships with the Mayor of London allows Citymapper access to data on bike sharing schemes as well as being integrated with all the major taxi services too. Citymapper’s great breakthrough was using open source data to provide more accurate timetabling for public transport. This effectively meant that instead of estimating when your train might arrive, the app was the first to tell Londoners both quickly and accurately what was going on. As the years have gone on, the team has added functionality to the app and has even put in some fun features, such as the option to travel on screen by hoverboard or by Boris Johnson Teleporter, which sadly no longer exists. One of the most popular features was the ‘Take Me Home’ button which pre-Night Tube or even pre-Uber made that Friday night slog home that bit more convenient when you just can’t be arsed to think properly.
But Citymapper isn’t just interested in telling you how to get places quicker. Recently they made forays into getting you there, too. These decisions emerged from the data-first approach to transport which gives them the ability to see where us urban dwellers struggle to get to. Having just launched their first commercial bus route, a pilot scheme which can take you from Aldgate to Highbury on Friday and Saturday Nights, they are partnering with taxi service, Gett, to launch a shared taxi route, which you can get on and off as if it were a bus.
Citymapper’s ambition has always been the same: to make getting around a city that bit easier, more efficient, and ultimately more pleasant. They are clearly proud of everything they have achieved and influenced up to now. But Citymapper always tries its new ideas here in London first, its hometown, a fact that should keep us Londoners on the edge of our tube seats for at least few more years to come.