Google rolls out new Maps features to aid the post-lockdown commute

The tools aim to make travel safer for those returning to the office

Google has announced the launch of new Maps features that will help users navigate the complicated routes of post-lockdown cities.

The tools, which include COVID-19 transit alerts, coronavirus checkpoint notifications, and reminders for users to “verify eligibility and facility guidelines” when navigating to medical facilities or COVID-19 testing centres, aim to help people get back to commuting and travelling while respecting social distancing measures. 

Transit alerts, which is the only feature that will be launching in the UK initially, will use information supplied by local transport agencies to warn users of any regulations impacting their journey.

In a blog post announcing the new features, Google Maps product management director Ramesh Nagarajan wrote that “these alerts can help you prepare accordingly if government mandates impact transit services or require you to wear a mask on public transportation”.

As well as the UK, the transit alerts will also be rolled out in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, and the US, with “more coming soon”.

Google has also repurposed its crowdedness predictions for public transit, which were launched last year, to better suit the realities of the pandemic.

The update will provide simplified feedback about busy routes to better reflect the possibility of not complying with social distancing rules, which require people to keep at least six feet away from each other. The measure is especially difficult to implement and follow in crowded public transport vehicles and might be dangerous to commuters’ health.

“Starting today, you can easily see the times when a transit station is historically more or less busy to plan your trip accordingly or you can look at live data showing how busy it is right now compared to its usual level of activity,” explained Nagarajan.  

“Simply search for a station in Google Maps or tap on the station on the map to see the departure board and busyness data, where available. Rolling out over the next several weeks, these capabilities are powered by aggregated and anonymized data from users who have opted into Google Location History, a Google account-level setting that is off by default.

"To protect privacy, these insights are only surfaced when we have sufficient data to meet privacy thresholds.”

In April, Google also added new features to Search and Maps that make it easier for people to connect with virtual health care services, following a rise in telehealth due to the pandemic.

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