iCTA: Which App Tracks Buses Best?

Two iPhone apps give the same data but in different formats

One of the CTA's greatest accomplishments is the Bus Tracker website. Thanks to GPS, users can find out exactly where the closest bus is and how soon it will be arriving at a specific stop.

But iPhone users know that any program worth having comes in an app. Two iPhone apps that use CTA bus data have emerged—Buster and CTA Tracker—but which is better? Ars Technica reviewed both to find out.

Neither app has been officially developed by the CTA. Both are priced at $0.99, and both use the same live data provided by the CTA.

CTA Tracker has been around longer, so it has more reviews under its belt. Its main fault is immediate: it categorizes intersections by neighborhood. If you're a local, you know that neighborhoods don't usually have well-defined lines. (Where does Andersonville end and Edgewater begin? What's the difference between Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and Boystown?) And if you're a visitor, it's not likely you know what neighborhood you're in.

However, to make up for this faux pas, the app also comes with a "Find Me" option, which lists bus stops near you. CTA Tracker also integrates Google Maps, which is good for those unfamiliar with the streets around them.

With that said, Buster looks "cleaner." Bus lines are sorted by route number and by name, a bit more intuitive than the CTA Tracker's neighborhood listing. Once you've selected your route, you can choose the appropriate intersection, and a clean CTA-bus-stop-style sign tells you how many minutes you'll be waiting for the next bus.

Buster doesn't seem to offer as many options as CTA Tracker does, but sometimes "less is more."

So which is better? That really depends on you, the user. Both are useful and provide information efficiently. If you prefer a "cleaner" look and are familiar with Chicago's routes and the streets you'll be traveling, Buster might better suit your needs. (After all, iPhone already comes with a separate Google Maps app installed.) However, if you are visiting or prefer an integrated map, then CTA Tracker may be the way to go.

For the full review and screen captures of both apps, check out the Ars Technica article here.

Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, is a recent iPhone convert.

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