New Orleans has always been a great city for tourists, and tourists need help getting around a place that they don't know very well. Thus, I was pleased to see that this week, the built-in Maps app on the iPhone added transit directions for New Orleans. Transit directions give you a combination of walking and public transportation directions to get between spots. The timing is good; we are just a week away from the start of Mardi Gras parades, and Jazz Fest is only two months later, so lots of tourists will be coming here starting in just a few days. (Transit maps in Houston were added just before the Super Bowl, so Apple does seem to be thinking of the right time to roll out new cities.) Although we also have buses, ferries, Amtrak, and other forms of public transportation, all of which are included in the transit feature of Maps, New Orleans is most well-known for its numerous streetcar lines, especially the St. Charles line which received national historic landmark status from the U.S. Department of the Interior a few years back (and which runs right next to my law office). Fortunately, the Maps app can help you find the closest streetcar stop and use the streetcar to get around town.
When you run a search for transit directions between two spots, the Maps app will typically give you multiple transit options. Routes are color-coded and include transit logos. Make sure that you look at each of them and think about which one makes the most sense. For example, I see that if I ask the Maps app to take me from Commander's Palace (my favorite restaurant in New Orleans) to the famous Pat O'Brien's bar in the French Quarter, the first recommended route is to take the Magazine Street bus, whereas the second recommended route is to take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. I see that the Maps app predicts that it would save two minutes to take the bus, so I suppose that is why the bus route is listed first, but I cannot imagine why anyone would opt to take the bus over the historic streetcar.
I also thought it was strange that when I asked the Maps app to give me directions via the streetcar starting at my office, the app told me to catch the streetcar not at the stop which is right in front of my office, but instead at the stop before which is two blocks away — even though the Maps app knows (and shows) that there is a stop at the corner of Poydras and St. Charles, and I can see from the blue dot on the map that the app even knows that I'm basically right there at the corner of Poydras and St. Charles. Bizarre.
But I also ran lots of other test searches that came out exactly as I would have given someone directions. The moral of the story is just to use your common sense when following directions and don't just blindly follow the first option that the Maps app gives you.
I've used transit directions on the Maps app in other cities in the past, such as Chicago and New York, and they work really well if you are wearing an Apple Watch because you can minimize the need to look at your iPhone while you are walking. Your Apple Watch will tap your wrist 12 times in a row if you you need to turn right at the next intersection, or will give you three pairs of two taps if you need to turn left at the next intersection.
If you want to use transit directions in the Maps app in other cities, Apple has a page telling you which cities are available. Twenty-seven U.S. cities are listed on that page, but the list doesn't yet include New Orleans.
Buy why visit those other cities when you can now use transit directions in New Orleans? With this latest update to the Maps app, now you have no excuse to put off experiencing the amazing food, music, architecture, history, and friendly people of the Crescent City. Just make sure to remember that the streetcar in this city is called the "streetcar," not the "trolley."