We know how it is ... you would use public transportation more often, but it's such a hassle trying to figure out which bus, train or tram to take, where to transfer, and what to do if your plans are altered. In the future, however, that might not be a problem. Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems is working on SMART-WAY, a mobile phone app that would make using public transit as simple as following the directions on a vehicle navigation system - you would just indicate your destination, and it would show you how to get there using public services, updating its information in real time.

On most major cities' public transit websites, it's already possible to obtain route information by indicating where you're traveling from, and where you want to go. Part of what makes SMART-WAY different is the fact that it would use the phone's GPS to keep tabs on where the user was at all times. That way, if they stopped temporarily or decided to change destinations, it would automatically know from what point to start recalculating their route. In a nice touch for travelers, it would also warn them when their destination or a transfer point was approaching, using the phone's vibration feature.

Another useful feature of SMART-WAY is the fact that it would receive real-time updates from participating public transit services, indicating the actual locations of its buses, trains or trams. This would be accomplished by accessing the location tracking systems already present in those vehicles. Using that information, the app would know if a specific bus was running late, for example, and couldn't make a connection. If such changes occurred once a user was already en-route (if the bus they were on got caught in a traffic jam, for instance), the app would suggest alternative routes that the user could switch to.

A prototype app has already been created, and tested using a computer model. With the help of eight corporate partners, the Fraunhofer team hope to conduct field testing in Dresden and Turin this September. A final version should be ready to be released across Europe sometime next year.

SMART-WAY is currently being developed for Android devices, with an iOS version dependent on how many public transit providers get on board with the project.