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London Gets New WAP Travel Service

[London, ENGLAND] A new Internet-based service announced Thursday will help users find their way around the various modes of transport in London via WAP-enabled mobile phones.

Developed by Transport for London (TfL) in partnership with information provider Kizoom, the real-time travel information service will cover Tube (subway), bus, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and Thames River services.

Ken Livingstone, London's first elected mayor, said the new service would make getting around London much more predictable. He claimed that it would make "journeys easier, more comfortable and less stressful."

"Now Londoners and commuters can get up-to-the-minute travel information on Tube, bus, DLR and Thames River services anywhere and at any time, simply and at the touch of a button," said Livingstone.

But will the service tell you exactly when the next bus will arrive? Unfortunately no. Nor will it translate TfL minutes (such as are shown on indicator boards in stations for Train 1, Train 2, etc.) into actual minutes as used by everyone else.

The new WAP service will simply relay information about disruption to services on the subway, line-by-line. For the relatively quiet Docklands Light Railway it will indicate departure times and give information on a station-by-station and platform-by-platform basis. As for the buses -- they are covered with just long-term information on disruption and diversions.

There is every reason to believe that Londoners and visitors alike want to see fast, reliable transport services rather than have information about how slow and unreliable they are. Nonetheless, the people behind the new WAP service have defended the project robustly.

"This new real-time travel information from TfL is exactly the kind of application that people want via their mobile phone," said Kizoom founder and Chief Technical Officer Nick Knowles.

"It puts the information in their hands, letting them make smarter decisions about how they manage their lives," said Knowles.

Travelers certainly complain about lack of information when delays occur, as witness the reactions of passengers earlier this week on a Virgin rail trip from Newcastle to Plymouth that took 16 hours. Kizoom also reports that on the first day of the petrol crisis in September 2000 it recorded a 40 percent increase in WAP enquires about national rail services.

Yet city travel is different. The would-be traveler wants to know: How do I get there? and When is the next train or bus?

The service from www.tflwap.gov.uk may have its uses, but it really answers neither of these questions fully.