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March 14, 2012

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Like me, there are many Eastonians who travel to the Western Shore to go to work every day, with different modes of transportation and efficiency. My commute involves 20 minutes in the car, 45 minutes on the bus, 10 minutes on a bike, and five minutes on foot. My wife wonders why I arrive home with gear grease on my pants and coffee spills on my shirt.

What I have found, though, is that technology can make the commute a more enjoyable experience by helping navigate urban transportation. Your smartphone is a wealth of commuting efficiency if you have the right apps. And so here it is: My five commuting apps that I can not live without—on the bus, in the car, or hustling through the city on bike or foot.

First, iPhone and Android both have a standard GPS app that can help maneuver around the traffic jams and locate metro buses and trains. The iPhone's version does not talk and you have to touch “next” when you reach the point of change specified, which is frustrating when you are driving (of course, I’m not condoning checking your phone while driving and I’ve never taken a picture of my speedometer with my phone). Instead of using the standard iPhone app, pay a little bit extra for TeleNav GPS Plus ($2.99 a month or $9.99 a year). It offers turn-by-turn navigation with voice-guided directions.

The Android, on the other hand, has a user-friendly GPS app that comes standard. Each one can tell you the arrival and departure times of local buses or trains. If you are on foot, they have a feature that can tell you the shortest path to walk. When it comes to driving to and from DC, using the GPS Apps can help locate those side streets that can get you around the traffic jams.  

The second app is a free metro app that can be downloaded in the Apple App Store called Ride DC Metro by Embark. I have never been good at reading metro maps—where was an app like this in my younger days, helping me maneuver throughout Europe? This app can really help you out if you get lost in DC and will even tell you what direction you need to travel (based on your GPS locator and a compass function) to find your way back home.  

The third app is a Capitol Bike Share app that locates bikes you can rent. You first need to set up an account with Capital Bike Share in order to use their thousands of bikes throughout the city. It costs about $75 for the year to join and gives you pretty much unlimited access to their bikes for short treks around town. From there, you can download their app to see where the bikes are located, how many bikes are at the station and if there are any available spots to drop it off at your destination.  Trust me when I say, check the destination! It is important when you get there that you have a spot to drop it off or you may have to backtrack to find another place to leave the bike.  

Fourth up on the list is the app known as Parkmobile. As many may know, parking in DC is a joke—just as much as trying to find a parking spot when you’re running late and don't have change to feed the meter. This app will allow you to set up an account and pay the meter by the push of a button (for a 35 cent additional charge). I sincerely hate parking in DC and finding a spot that can last you all day is a challenging at best. So, unless you have the clearance to park at a garage or are the President of the United States, you might as well pay the piper. Remember: it is much cheaper to pay the meter than it is to pay the man to come take the boot off of your wheel.

Last but tastier than the others, I've singled out the Starbucks app. After all of your travels, you may need to take a coffee break to get you moving. The Starbucks app is pretty cool...and potentially pretty dangerous. While I love Starbucks, often I just don’t have the time to stop and wait in line. Here’s an app that can cut the line and help them take your money a little faster. With the app you set up an account with a credit card and program in your food or drink order. After that, you can push the button and violá, you have your coffee waiting at the nearest Starbucks when you arrive. The nifftiest part is when they scan a bar code off of your phone when you arrive to verify pickup. This feature could be useful in many shopping experiences and will hopefully be more widely used in the future. Until then, Starbucks has it covered.

So the next time you head into Washington, download a few new apps and you may feel just a little bit more in control.

What apps are essential to your commute? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

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March 14, 2012

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How to Beat DC Using Only Apps

Interesting and informative.

Jean Callis more than 2 years ago

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