Comparing Coverage: Google Maps, GoEuro & Rome2rio Head To Head

Comparison header

Since our launch four years ago we’ve been passionate about making Rome2rio a truly global travel search site. That means having coverage so complete that Rome2rio can help users discover how to get anywhere by any mode of transport rather than how to get most places in countries X, Y and Z by modes of transport A, B and C but only with operators D, E and F.

The way we see it, incomplete coverage is a little like a street directory with a bunch of pages missing. That’s why we’ve gone to great lengths to import as many routes and operators into Rome2rio as possible. We’ve developed web crawlers, data feed importers and manual data entry tools, all managed by our global team of transport researchers. The result is a database covering some 800,000 routes and over 4,700 transport operators.

So, how does our coverage compare to others in this space? How often do we provide usable, relevant multi-modal search results when others don’t? We decided it was time to find out, by benchmarking our service against results from two other prominent sites offering multi-modal results: Google Maps and GoEuro.

The Competition

Although Maps is not yet marketed as a travel product (and generally lacks pricing and booking information) Google have been adding more and more transit feeds, including important inter-city operators such as German Railways and the entire UK network. A tremendously popular product for Google, it’s becoming clear they see these enhancements to Maps as a bridge between the vast search and travel markets.

GoEuro — who recently announced a $27 million investment round — have quickly become a leading player in the European multi-modal space. We like the GoEuro site a lot, especially the crisp, elegant design and slick user experience. This Berlin-based company is growing fast and seems certain to become a favourite with many users in the European market.

The Test Results

The initial test was based on a randomly selected sample of 25 queries from our own search logs. The head to head test results between the three sites are shown below: a green bar indicates the site provided at least one train, bus, ferry or rideshare result; a red bar indicates no result  was shown. A yellow bar indicates a partial score, where only part of the route was covered, or operator information was missing. We excluded flights and driving options as this data is readily available and well covered by all three sites.

coverage-analysis1

Clearly the difference in coverage offered is significant. Rome2rio nailed all the queries in this initial test set, while Google Maps had complete results for 36.6% of the queries, and gave partial information for another 9.8%. GoEuro provided complete coverage for 14.6% of trips in the query set. When the set is restricted to European locations, a fairer measure for GoEuro, their score increases to 16.2%.

Second Round Tests

Recognising that there may be some bias inherent in the initial benchmark—people visiting Rome2rio may have prior knowledge of the site’s coverage and issue queries that are more likely to be correctly answered—we created a second set of queries, this one drawn entirely from TripAdvisor forums. We mined user questions such as “How to get from Athens to Gastouni?“— there are millions of such questions posed on TA, so it was a rich vein. The resulting queries  are quite challenging, as users are more likely to turn to the TA forums when they cannot easily find transport information elsewhere. In this second analysis, we focused only on trains and buses, as neither Google Maps or GoEuro profess to offer rideshare, and GoEuro does not offer ferries.

coverage-analysis2

Rome2rio’s score slipped slightly on this query set, and there was one query (Cortona to Montevarchi) where Google Maps identified an option that Rome2rio missed. GoEuro achieved only 4.8% coverage (and 6.3% for the European subset). Google Maps also struggled with 28.6% coverage. All up, the delta between the three sites was pretty similar for both query sets.

Points Of Difference

In contrast to Google Maps and Rome2rio, GoEuro are tackling multi-modal search using the traditional live API connection model used by OTAs and meta-search sites, and also employed by multi-modal players RouteRANK, FromAtoB and Waymate. This approach provides full pricing and booking information on the initial search. It does, however, limit coverage to operators who offer an API: that’s OK for most rail operators and the larger coach and ferry operators, but not for the vast majority of transport operators worldwide.

This is a key limiting factor, and suggests that GoEuro will be popular as a booking tool for well-known, high-traffic routes within Europe, but less attractive as a general transport search tool or journey planner. That focus seems consistent with their stated goals, and this benchmark result should be seen in that light.

One of the key ingredients for Rome2rio’s comprehensive coverage is our global research team and their manual data collection efforts. In December last year we explained that although manually collected data represented just 2% of routes in the Rome2rio repository, they appear frequently in search results and represent 49% of user clicks. This is largely because our manual content curation is targeted towards important regions and operators. As our repository has grown this breakdown has shifted slightly:

coverage-analysis3

Going forward, we will continue to seek 100% global coverage, but we’ll also begin developing live API connections with transport operators who offer this functionality. Combining those two approaches will allow us to offer the ideal user experience: truly global, door-to-door coverage; lightning fast results; and accurate fares and schedule information for users focused on specific travel dates.

Rome2rio’s Development Team Expands Again

In August this year we wrote about Miles Izzo joining our engineering team, and his experience and ability to tackle some of the pressing problems on our project list. Miles has already shipped several important improvements to the site, including the printable results feature, support for new transport types and performance improvements. We also mentioned we were on the lookout for two additional developers, and we’re pleased to say that search has been successful, with Marco Lui and Alan Lawrey joining our team this month.

Marco recently completed his PhD studies at Melbourne University where he published several papers on text modeling, analytics and classification while teaching classes and entering Kaggle competitions on the side. He is a long time fan of Rome2rio and told us “I always assumed that you were another Bay Area startup”. When he discovered that we were local, and hiring developers, he was quick to apply. Marco’s scientific and research background will be invaluable for many of the challenging data science and analytics related projects we’ve got going.

Alan completed a Computer Science degree at LaTrobe University in 2011 and has been working on back and front end web development at migenius, a Melbourne company that provides ray tracing web solutions. We love that he’s clearly passionate about coding and works on a variety of projects in his free time.

Marco and Alan

Alan and Marco outside the AKM building (home to inspire9 and Rome2rio)

We have been delighted by the success we’ve had over the last couple of months finding experienced, talented developers here in Melbourne. We have employed the same recruiting, interviewing and leveling processes that Bernie and I used at Microsoft and all our hires would certainly pass the bar for hiring at the Redmond tech giant.

Melbourne’s universities continue to produce top quality computer scientists. The absence of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter competing for local talent certainly makes it easier for Melbourne based tech start-ups to stand out as employers and set a high bar for recruiting. We are certainly not the only ones observing this – just yesterday Evernote announced it plans to open an office in Australia to “take advantage of what it considers to be an under-exploited developer and engineering talent pool”.

Dissecting User Engagement Of Rome2rio’s Transport Images

In July we launched our Transport Images feature which displays insightful photographs of trains, buses and ferries on Rome2rio. Not sure if that ferry between Kuala Besut and Perhentian Besar is a leaky boat or a sophisticated catamaran? Do you reeeaaally want to spend 22 hours on that bus from Buenos Aires to Bariloche? Transit images provide information and re-assurance when venturing somewhere new with operators you’ve never heard of before.

Frankly, we weren’t sure how popular this feature would be, but it hasn’t taken long for users to show their approval: over three quarters of a million images are being viewed each week, after only two months on the site.

We love analyzing data and discovering how users are interacting with our site, and we were naturally thrilled to observe this level of popularity, with hover rates on the images ranging from 20 – 40%. Still, we wanted to drill deeper and learn which images our users were engaging with most often, as that analysis will help focus our efforts building the collection. Do users prefer internal or external photographs of the transport? Are bus photos more useful than train or ferry photos? How about ticket machines and station images?

We extracted the results from Google Analytics and manually classified images into different categories. Here’s the results:

Transit images clicks

Category, hover rate (calculated as percentage of times a category image is displayed), and samples

It turns out users are more engaged with images of buses and ferries (29 – 31%) than with trains (22%). This is perhaps not surprising – buses and ferries vary greatly in comfort and quality and the market is more fragmented with many smaller operators.

Surprisingly, users are engaging most with images related to rideshare offerings from BlaBlaCar and Carpooling.com. We presume this is because long-distance rideshare is still a relatively new concept and users are keen to learn more about the type of experience they’ll have.

We were surprised to discover no significant difference in engagement between interior and exterior photographs. This was consistent across all modes of transport.

Finally, images of ticket machines and train stations are also popular; it’s clear that many people worry about finding the station and learning more about where they’ll collect their ticket, and appreciate the extra degree of confidence these images provide.

We will use this data to prioritize our continued development of the image collection. We also rely heavily upon route popularity to prioritize our efforts, by sourcing images for popular routes first. Andrew Hickey and our global content team have made excellent progress since the feature was first launch and we are currently displaying 785,000 images per week:

transit-image-growth

Weekly transit image displays May 25 – Sep 13, 2014

We expect this will grow to around 1,500,000 weekly displayed images by the end of the year as coverage improves further.

Print Search Results Feature Launched Today

For some time now, our users have been asking for the ability to print their journey plans. We’re now pleased to announce the Print view feature that displays your Rome2rio search result in a simple, ready-to-print format.

Simply click the new Print view button at the top-right of the search results:

printview1

The results are then displayed in a simple list-style format, ready for printing:

printview2

You may expand and collapse each of the possible itineraries to decide which to print:

printview3

You can try the new print view feature here. We’re confident it will come in handy, not just on the road, but also for sharing, scribbling notes, and for posting your upcoming trips on the noticeboard at work. (Unfair to your fellow workers, but understandable.)

Focusing On Our Global App

​Over the last two years we’ve experimented with various ways of getting Rome2rio’s journey planning technology into the hands of users. Our web-based desktop solution is by far the most popular, with over 3 million unique users each month, and growing fast. Naturally enough — we are an online travel company, after all — we’ve also released responsive versions of the site for use on mobile platforms, and an iPhone App.
 
 
We took the App experiment a step further last year with geo-specific versions for the iPhone: the Melbourne Transport Planner, UK Transport Planner, Sydney Transport Planner and a number of others. Each of these apps functioned in exactly the same way, used exactly the same data and produced exactly the same results as their “big sister” app, Rome2rio. The difference was that they only allowed Origin and Destination entries within their geo-specific area.
 
 
photo 2 (3)     photo 2 (3)
 
Geo-specific apps like the UK Transport Planner (left) produce identical
results to the Rome2rio app (right).
 
 
This experiment has had mixed results: the Melbourne and UK apps were very popular, while we gained little traction with the others. That may have something to do with the fact we didn’t actively market them, that the same functionality could be had through the Rome2rio app, or that consumers looking for an in-city journey planner also wanted up to the minute arrival times for buses, trains and subways: the type of information that is delivered so well by apps like Hopstop, TramTracker, CityMapper and others.
 
 
In any event, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on our global app, Rome2rio, and plan a new release in the November timeframe. We’ve withdrawn the other apps from the Apple store. Look out for the new version of Rome2rio later this year, and check the mobile version of our web site, which also works on Android devices.

Rome2rio Adds Sights & Activities And How To Get To Them

Rome2rio is described by many of our users as a trip planner – an essential tool for early, high-level crafting of the itinerary for your trip. When we thinking about trip planning, we think of three key elements:

  1. Where to go and how do I get there? (transport)
  2. What can and see and do once I’m there? (sights and activities)
  3. Where am I going to stay? (accommodation)

Our focus at Rome2rio is providing a comprehensive solution to (1). We’ve continued to develop and improve our hotel search experience, which helps when planning (3). However, we felt we really needed to add sights and activities (2) to Rome2rio in order to offer a complete trip planning experience to our users.

We’re excited to launch our new sights & activities feature today. You’ll now see a new button labeled Things to do? below search results on the left. Click it to view attractions in and around your search destination.

Rome2rio's new attractions feature

Rome2rio’s new attractions feature

Attractions and colour coded with a range of categories including amusement parks, museums, parks, lighthouses, churches, dams, aquariums, sculptures, theaters, memorials and waterfalls.

Hover over an attraction to view the details including a photo, description, and directions to the attraction from your current search destination.

attraction-hover

Developing the attractions feature has been challenging, especially given the absence of an existing global, curated, comprehensive and accurate source of sights and activities. Viator’s repository is high quality, however their focus is solely on paid tours and activities, and not the free attractions which we also require. TripAdvisor’s Things to do pages are perhaps the most comprehensive offering on the web, however the content is largely user generated we found occasional inaccuracies in the location data. Lonely Planet also owns an excellent attractions repository based on their book content, but they are not focused on licensing the data to third parties, so that wasn’t an option.

Ultimately we chose to develop our own repository based on publicly available Wikipedia and Flickr data. We are utilizing our ever-diligent content team to review and refine the repository, and have developed in-house tools for the required tasks.

Internal quality control and review tool used by the Rome2rio content team

Internal quality control and review tool used by the Rome2rio content team

No doubt the feature will improve with time. We plan to integrate Viator’s bookable tours and activities in the near future, and we may explore adding Tripadvisor review scores. User feedback will be critical for identifying quality issues and missing attractions. In the meantime, this new addition to Rome2rio certainly enhances the overall value of the site, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Rome2rio Expands Its Engineering Team

We’re excited to announce another addition to the growing Rome2rio engineering team based in Melbourne, Australia. Miles Izzo completed his Software Engineering (Honours) degree back in 2004 and has worked on a range of interesting data science problems during his career so far. As a seasoned developer he’ll no doubt play a major role in our mission to organise and search the world’s transport information.

Miles Izzo

We’re actively looking for two more experienced engineers to join our team. If you are based in Melbourne, have a Computer Science or Software Engineer background, and would like to work on a range of interesting problems with a fun, creative group of people then check out the job description.

Job description