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How Cotral is using Google Maps Platform to make bus travel better for commuters–and the planet

November 10, 2020
Paolo Castagno

Head of the Technical Area Organizational Unit at Cotral S.p.A (Cotral)

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Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Paolo Castagno, head of the Technical Area Organizational Unit at Cotral S.p.A (Cotral). Cotral is using Google Maps Platform to help make regional bus journeys outside of Rome, Italy convenient, plannable, and on time.

If you live in the suburbs, or a more rural area, it’s likely you depend on your car to get around for work and daily errands. But as more and more people move away from large cities, the commute to work is becoming a little longer every day, and more congested too. All this, combined with growing concerns around carbon emissions, makes public transport a logical choice–everyone, no matter where they live, should have the option to leave their car at home.

Here at Cotral, we transport hundreds of thousands of commuters and students across the Lazio region of Italy each day. We believe that convenient and reliable bus services should be accessible for everyone, including people who live miles from major exchange points. A few years ago, we realized that to make that happen, we needed to change the way we communicated with our passengers. Static PDFs of routes and schedules with identical travel times whatever the season or time of day weren’t good enough for us anymore. As a commuter, you need real-time information in order to plan your day and get to your destination comfortably and on time. To provide that, we began working with Web Geo Services to develop a solution based on Google Maps Platform.

Helping commuters get from A to B faster with real-time updates

Our first step was to develop a website and app that uses the Maps JavaScript API to locate buses and the most convenient places to buy tickets, in real time. A few years ago, commuters might wait up to half an hour at a bus stop before finding out from the driver that the journey would take 20 minutes longer than expected. Now, our riders get to the bus stop knowing they have exactly nine minutes to wait, just enough time to pop into the closest store and renew their monthly bus pass plan. We can also tell them exactly how long their journey should take. 


The real-time table shows the customers the next routes passing by their stop, including scheduled time, real time forecast and bus number.

Rich maps data available through Google Maps Platform allows our passengers to plan their journeys more accurately and it also allows us to respond to traffic situations as they come up. For example, during busier times we can add more buses to transport more people in comfort while sticking to the schedule. We’ve also set up an internal tool based on Google Maps Platform data that enables our call center employees to provide detailed information about what’s going on in a given area at a specific time. Since we began offering these new services, our surveys have shown a 33% increase in customer satisfaction.


Our app displays the nearest points of sale for Cotral tickets.

We’re committed to environmental sustainability, and a big priority for us is being able to offer people an alternative to driving. At the same time, we consider it essential to cut down on our emissions as a company. We have 48 bus depots sprinkled over a region of more than 10,000 square miles, which means a lot of time on the road for staff and maintenance operators.To support our team we developed an internal application that uses the Distance Matrix API to suggest the most efficient itineraries for maintenance staff, taking into account traffic conditions and other factors such as depot size and length of visit to significantly reduce the amount of time spent on the road. Close monitoring of our bus routes also enables us to shave off any surplus miles, cutting down both costs and emissions.

Our customers can track their bus while they’re waiting for it: the red pointers identify the starting/arrival point of the route, the blue pointer is the bus stop where the customer is waiting.

As a small team, we needed a solution that would be easy to implement and to customize, and Google Maps Platform was an obvious choice. We look forward to working with Google Maps Platform on more exciting projects. We’re working on a new Cotral app that will launch in the first quarter of 2021. Our new app will ask users to sign in for personalized suggestions, and will alert passengers ahead of time of any delays or cancellations. Once the new app is up and running, we’d like to begin working on a new monitoring and control room that will enable us to work with other data services, such as traffic police reports, temporary road closures, or events that may disrupt traffic, and redesign routes in real time. We’re also planning to launch a mobile app that will support newly hired or reassigned drivers by showing them the correct routes for scheduled trips. 

As a public transport company, we’re well aware that commuter expectations are much higher than only a few years ago. Increasingly connected, tech-savvy commuters expect high-quality, detailed travel information in real time. Even more important, they want service providers to show a real commitment to preserving the world for future generations. These are the two priorities that will continue to drive our business, and we look forward to working with Google Maps Platform as a part of our mission.

For more information on Google Maps Platform, visit our website.

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