Google Map and confusions on Indian Highways
I rely 100% on Google Maps for accuarate navigation within the city, whether its my home town commuting, or a walk to nearby restaurants when I am a tourist in a new place.
This year, when my family and I made two long road trips, covering nearly 4000 km in the span of a few days, I naturally turned to my old ally to plan the journey.
This is a big transition compared to our earlier journey planning. I still have the physical maps (anyone remember map of Maharashtra? South India?) that we used in my school days to plan trips. Dad and I would trace the routes, calculate the distance and then write down in a notebook where we would make a halt each day. Against each day, we would also write down the petrol consumption, mileage and expenses.
Of course, life does not operate according to a map. We still needed to check signboards, ask people when we got lost and take Uturns because we went down the wrong road.
Does this change because of Google Maps? Actually, it does not. Using Google Maps on the highway eliminates physical maps, but does not reduce errors. Here are some of the issues we faced;
1) The Shortest Route is not the best route!
Google will always show you the shortest route from A to B. It's useful in the city, where there are anyway limited options. And in heavy commuter traffic, any time saved is precious.
But on the state and national highways, its a different story.
There are multiple routes between point A and B, meandering across different villages and towns.
The shortest route may be a rutted cart track (in our case, Google pointed us to a small diversion that led to the bypass but was literally a mud track, And there were some hair raising shortcuts through single lane village roads that we would have gladly skipped)
It may be a potholed single lane road vs a relatively well surfaced state highway
It may be a lonely stretch of road with no restaurants or toilets vs a regular, busy tourist route.
We encountered each of these scenarios during our drives, almost everyday.
A reduction in kilometers driven is not always the best outcome when you are on holiday
You might choose to drive 20-30 km longer, on a more comfortable route.
A case in point, was when Google directed us on back roads between Chikmagalur and Coorg.
We drove on narrow, pitted roads between plantations, for nearly 3.5 hours.
The scenery was beautiful but there was not one place where we could stop for lunch.
The alternative Mysore-Mangalore road was a little distance away but we would have had a more comfortable ride
We might have even reached faster because the road was better.
2) No option to filter by Highway Category
Google Maps offers very limited useable filters on the highway.
It asks if you want to travel by toll roads or non toll roads
The prefered option is always toll roads, as its assumed the authorities who collect toll, will also keep these roads in better condition.
However, if you do highway driving in India you choose between two categories of roads - National Highways, and State Highways. National Highways tend to be in better condition. They are generally toll roads. State Highways are in variable condition. Some are toll roads, many are not.
We would have found it useful during our trip if we could select routes that used National Highways predominantly, or only state highways (vs smaller 'shortcut' roads)
Also, if Google was able to give feedback on road condition when recommending a road, that would have been fabulous.
3) No option to select hotels and restaurants on the highway
You can now locate merchants and restaurants directly through Google Map which is super convenient. This feature is really useful on the highway. You can plan many things, but food and toilets are something that you may need anytime on the road.
Using Google Maps to search for food options on the highway did not work well for us because it showed us places inside town, or some distance away from the route. Now obviously no one wants to take a diversion into a town and waste time especially when there is a long drive planned for the day.
If Google could show only the eating places along the route, that would be simply awesome.
4) Not showing the alternate roads at all times
As I mentioned earlier, on the highway, there are multiple routes between Point A and B.
When travelling within town, Google shows alternate routes as greyed out options and the primary route in color. By clicking on the alternate route, it maps that route instead.
On the highway, Google displays the Toll and Non Toll road options at all times, but not other alternate routes. Hence, you may miss out on the better, not so short routes that still take you more smoothly to your destination.
It would be great if Google can give me 2 or even 3 viable route options at all times. So that I need not hesitate and think I am taking a wrong route because its not on the map. Psychologically thats a scary thing to do!
In fact, at all points where we took a wrong turn, the map immediately calibrated to the new route. Meaning that the map knows there are multiple routes but chooses to show me just one.
5) Turn on 'route sharing' option
When planning a journey, I would like to see the routes taken by others. I would also be happy to share my route, and my notes and impressions. This can be very useful feedback for popular tourist destinations. For example, road repair and flyover building work on the Pune Kolhapur Highway threw our estimated travel time off track. We have done Pune-Kolhapur multiple times in the past few years and its always a 4 hour journey for us. But because of the roadwork, it was 6 hours this time. This threw of our usual plans like where we eat, where we stop on the way. If I was able to see feedback from someone who recently used the road, it would have been useful.
Similarly, a description of a new route in terms of road quality, traffic etc.
Make no mistake, Google Maps is awesome and I will be using it every trip. These suggestions are just intented to make it even better.