I was recently interviewed by Allie Johnson of China Radio International. We talked about my motivations for creating the Explore Metro maps and my plans for the future! Listen to the audio here, or view the transcript below.
Allie: In every city Matt Mayer travels to, there’s one site he can’t miss.
Matt: I am a big fan of metros. Whenever I’m in town, I try to visit as many of the stations as I can.
Allie: When the Brit moved to Shanghai four years ago, that pastime got a little tricky.
Matt: I really wanted to use public transport to get around but when I searched online, I found that there wasn’t really any good information in English about the metro. I found some metro maps but often they would be like out of date or they wouldn’t include the correct station engine in English. So I thought, “I think I can do better than that myself.”
Allie: Mayer wanted to make the best metro map and trip planner in China. He went to great lengths to make it accurate: really great lengths.
Matt: A couple of years ago, I tried to visit every metro station in Shanghai in a single day. Starting at 6:00 in the morning, finishing late in the evening. It took me just over ten hours to visit every station. Althoufg that was before, some of the new lines have opened. I think if you try to do the same thing today, it would take even longer and it might not even be possible.
Allie: And so Explore Metro was born. It’s an online map of rapid transit systems in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Singapore. And there’s an iPhone app too. You can click on any station on the network, and drag to any other station to find best routes, trip times, and fares. You can also see first and last train times, Google maps of the area round the station, and links to info on nearby places.
All maps are bilingual and non-Chinese speakers can hear the station name in Mandarin.
Allie: Mayer says about 80% of users are Chinese.
Matt: And I do get quite a lot of feedback from Chinese people who are quite surprised that a foreigner actually took the time to make something like this.
Allie: In the past two years, the Shanghai metro has opened three new lines and expanded four. For Jonathan McDonald, this is where Explore Metro comes in handy.
Jonathan McDonald: I don’t know these new subway lines. I don’t know where they go. I don’t know how to connect with them. I don’t know what the fastest routes are. But this really shows me where to go.
Allie: Peggy Wong is living between Beijing and Shanghai. She just recently discovered the site.
Peggy: I think it’s very useful like it’s very user friendly. It’s great that they have such function because normally the map has a lot of stations and it’s a lot easier to pinpoint where the station I need to go.
Allie: But Wong and McDonald both say the maps have room to improve.
Peggy: I cannot zoom in or out so I can only see like a part of the metro map. So if I need to go from a very far end of one side of the city to go to the other side, I go back and forth, like side to side on the map.
Allie: McDonald says he doesn’t feel it accounts for the extra time needed to switch trains at busy interchange stations especially at rush hour.
Jonathan McDonald: I made a route between an interchange that is notoriously busy. And it didn’t give me a realistic journey time. You know, it said this will take you 13 minutes but speaking from personal experience, just that interchange could take you 10 minutes.
Allie: Matt Mayer says he welcomes anyone to write in with comments. And that almost every single added feature comes from user suggestion.
Matt: Although my Chinese is not too great, I do try to reply to everybody whether they’re writing to me in English or Chinese and I can email them back and let you know if it makes into a new version of the app.
Allie: Next stops are Explore Tokyo and Explore Seoul. He plans to keep the project Asia-focused because the rapid transit systems here are expanding so quickly. Currently, Mayer is travelling the world and working remotely. And wherever he can, ride in the rails. For CRI, I’m Allie Johnson.
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