Discover and Research
It all started when I got tired of guessing the amount of money I had to bring on roadtrips. I took the #1 navigation app in the App Store and reimagined how Google might implement toll pricing transparency.
To begin, I asked the following questions:
- How many people were also running into this issue besides me?
- How popular was driving compared to other modes of transportation? Do people still drive long distance or do most people fly?
- What were pre-existing methodologies drivers used to calculate tolls?
- What apps and services were currently on the market addressing this issue?
Are road trips still a thing?
AAA did a study concluding that road trips have gained popularity as many people now value spending money on memories more than material items. Not only that, but driving is still the more practical option when traveling due to lower costs and less packing restrictions.
Background information about toll agencies
72% of the U.S. implement tolls. There are currently 17 total toll networks with the largest being E-Z Pass. States are increasingly using tolls to fund transportation improvements. The amount of the toll usually varies by vehicle type, weight, or number of axles, with freight trucks often charged higher rates than cars. The most common variable across all 17 toll networks is the number of axles. Most people drive 2-axle cars so that must be chosen as the default.
Tolls are used to fund the upkeep of the road system. When driving on unfamiliar routes however, drivers have no way to prepare to pay for tolls, some of which may be cash only.
What do people do now?
I decided to do some social listening and went on the world’s largest focus group: Reddit. I opened a post in r/roadtrip to ask what people usually do.
Many suggestions on Reddit mentioned they do the following:
- Plot route
- Identify tolling agency and facility
- Go to tolling website to see how much it costs
- Check to see if I get discounts with a transponder
- Add it all up
- Repeat 1x for trip back
A couple apps were mentioned, such as Toll Calc. Many of these resources either needed too much information (i.e. total weight of car) or calculated tolls on a static map. This meant I would have to switch back and forth between apps to drive and keep informed. Currently, all navigation apps provide users with the choice of either avoiding all tolls, or allowing all tolls. Beyond this, there’s no customization.
What does Google Maps do currently?
Within the app, I saw a couple key areas to improve.
- Issue 1: Make the toll icon more obvious
The current icon on iOS doesn't stand out enough to catch attention.
- Issue 2: Use a consistent icon
Switching between icons can be confusing and makes the user pause. Consistent associations allow for quicker mental processing.
- Issue 3: Indicate exactly where the tolls are
This is more helpful than making the user manually search in the directions list for where tolls show up on the road. If Google Maps can do that for car accidents (shown below), why not tolls?