Trafficgauge Mobile Traffic Map review
Another way to get realtime traffic data
This is an elegantly
simple device, easy to use and understand.
It is compact and lightweight, always on, and with up to
date local traffic data.
of our series on GPS - see links on the right.
The Traffic Gauge Mobile
Traffic Map gives you a simple display of a region's freeway
system and provides three measures of traffic congestion on
those freeways (open, moderate, and heavy traffic).
The information is obvious at a
glance and is updated every four minutes. While the unit
has a simple monochrome display, and simplifies traffic data
compared to what might be available through the internet, it can
be a convenient and helpful tool if you're traveling a route
that gives you a choice of freeways.
Indeed, it is so convenient
that users of Trafficgauge report an average nine hours of time
saved each month due to the information they receive and use on
their Trafficgauge units.
About the Trafficgauge company
Trafficgauge was formed by a
Seattle resident in 1999, after his frustration at not knowing which freeways
to choose when driving between home and work each day.
was the first company to aggregate and broadcast real-time
traffic information to wireless handheld devicesand currently is a privately held company employing
about ten people.
The company released its
first unit for the driving public in June 2003, and unsurprisingly it was designed for the Seattle region.
It added new units for Los Angeles in 2004 and San Francisco in
2005. In 2006 it came up with a unit that provides the
same data for the small nation of Singapore, and recently
introduced an updated improved version of their Seattle device
(it shows a lot more freeways plus some additional information
Trafficgauge also provides traffic
data for 17 different US cities that can be accessed through a
regular PC or via a data capable cell phone. These
extra services are currently completely free.
Trafficgauge says it plans
to release a new unit for the Chicago area in time for Christmas
this year, and also plans to add about six more cities to its
PC/cell phone free service during 2007. Their main
constraint for continuing to grow is, they say, their insistence
on publishing only high quality reliable data. 'We do one
job only, and we do that one job very well' says founder and
CEO, Ryan Peterson.
The Trafficgauge Mobile Traffic
The unit comes in one of
those awful and impossible to open plastic display cases.
Inside is the unit itself, a small quick start instruction card, and a
double sided folded sheet of instructions.
The handheld unit measures
4.5" x 3.5" x 0.8" and weighs 6.3 ounces with batteries.
The batteries are included - the unit comes with two AA
batteries already installed. The manufacturer says that a
pair of AA batteries can be expected to last 3 - 4 months, and
at the bottom of the screen there's a battery level icon that
shows the state of the batteries.
The LCD screen is 2.75" x
3.75" and rather than having lots of pixels on it, has bar
shapes that switch on or go off, and a pre-printed outline of the
local region and its freeways. This means that each unit
only works for one region - if you spent time regularly in both
San Francisco and Los Angeles, you'd need to buy a unit for each
region (and two subscriptions for the freeway data, too).
Freeway traffic information
is shown by the bar that appear on the freeway maps. The
bars are either solid or flashing - a solid bar means medium
traffic density and a flashing bar means heavy traffic.
I'm not sure how intuitive this is, and have difficulty
remembering which means which, but fortunately, to remind myself
about this, all I need do is turn the unit over. They
print a quick set of instructions and explanations on the back
of the unit - what a great idea. A 'manual' you'll never
The unit has a 30 day money
back guarantee and a one year limited warranty - a very generous
policy that absolutely gives you the confidence you need to buy
one and try it out. And, if you do like it, which most
people apparently do, you can then confidently proceed to order
an extended period of service (at lower monthly cost).
Toll-free support is offered
8am - 5pm, Pacific Time, Monday - Friday. Emailed support
questions are often answered after hours too.
The Los Angeles area unit
covers most of greater Los Angeles and Orange County, stretching
from Burbank to Yorba Linda and Irvine, with over 850 freeway
miles in total.
The San Francisco unit
covers the I-280 corridor to Antioch, to Novato, to Livermore
and to San Jose.
The Seattle unit covers from
Everett to Tacoma and Issaquah.
In the case of the two
Californian units, traffic data is sourced from Caltrans, and in
the Seattle area, it comes from the WA Dept of Transportation.
In each case, this data is 'as good as it gets', and then
Trafficgauge add some extra quality control management to the
raw data before publishing it to your unit.
The units are believed to
receive their data from FM broadcast transmitters, but Trafficgauge
chooses not to reveal which FM radio stations they have
contracts with to have their data broadcast through; indeed,
they keep this information so close to themselves that one of
their employees insisted, to me, that the data is actually
broadcast through a cell phone wireless network rather than
through FM sub-channels.
Whichever way the data is sent to
the devices is somewhat irrelevant to us as users, though,
because the key thing is, as President Ryan Peterson says, that
the units reliably receive data through the entire area reported
on by the unit, plus for a reasonable distance outside the area
There is a small signal strength icon in the bottom
right of the unit so you can see if your unit is in range and
receiving data or not.
Using the Unit
Living in the Seattle area
naturally meant I tried the Seattle unit. The comments I
offer probably apply to a greater or lesser extent to the other
two units, too.
Turning the unit on was
easy. A single push of the only button on the unit turned
it on, and the unit then remains permanently on - there is no
way to turn it off, short of removing its batteries.
Having the unit always on is
a good idea, because it means you can always look at the unit
and instantly get up to date information. The unit
receives new data every four minutes, so the information is
The one button does three
functions. It initially powers the unit on, it momentarily
switches on a backlight (if you're using the unit at night),
and, if held down, it triggers a display that shows if any
sections of the freeway system are not currently reporting data.
As soon as the unit was on
and had downloaded the latest traffic data, I had a chance to
see the information it passed on to its user.
This data is not as complete as it could be,
although company President Ryan Peterson had convincing reasons
for their simplification of the data they present. There
were three areas of simplification - Washington's Dept of
Transportation provides four levels of traffic state rather than Trafficgauge's three, the DoT provides traffic flow data on car
pool lanes as well as general lanes, and the DoT also has more,
smaller segments of road they report on giving an apparently
more finely grained picture of overall traffic.
Ryan explained that
Trafficgauge undertook extensive usability testing to create
units that provided sufficient and relevant information to a
driver as quickly and safely as possible. Their studies
showed that people can best grasp the concept of three rather
than four traffic states, and the extra information offered by
another traffic state would have been confusing to quickly show
on the unit's screen while not adding much value to the user's
appreciation of what traffic is actually like.
Ryan said that sometimes the DoT have too short segments of freeway to report on, and these
short segments can sometimes have unreliable or anomalous data,
and so Trafficgauge has created more reliable and sometimes
larger segments for traffic reporting, usually 3 - 4 miles in
length per segment.
And he said traffic in
car pool lanes is less subject to random change, and again is
hard to easily show on a hand-held device, and so they felt the
negatives outweighed the positives in trying to add car pool
lane data to the unit.
For most people, their main
use of the unit is probably to make simple 'either this way or
that way' type driving decisions, and/or to decide if they want
to travel where they need to go now or if they should wait for
the roads to clear. In these two situations, the unit is
more than helpful, and anything else would be almost overkill.
On the positive side, the
unit does show which direction the several reversible lanes are
operating in, and it adds other helpful data too, such as the
road conditions on nearby mountain passes in winter, delays
crossing the border into Canada (providing a much
appreciated answer to the question we always ask ourselves when
going north on I-5 into Canada, ie 'which border crossing should
I take?') and, coming soon, traffic backups for the region's
ferries too. It also has a symbol to show if there are any
major sports events
The unit was easy to read
and easy to use. It worked as promised, and as best I can
tell from limited experimentation, the data it provided was
reasonably accurate, reliable, and helpful, and definitely
better than that I was receiving on my vastly more expensive GPS
unit, or through my free Google maps feed.
A helpful accessory to
consider is the windshield mount offered for sale by
Trafficgauge on their website. This costs $9.95 and
answers the question of 'where do I put the unit?'. It is
obviously safer to have the unit mounted more or less in your
line of sight than to have to find it, pick it up, move it to
eye level, then return it somewhere after viewing it.
Free Trafficgauge on your
In addition to the dedicated
units for the SEA, SFO and LAX regions, Trafficgauge are also
currently offering free data feeds to many mobile phones and to
regular computers, too.
They offer live traffic data
in 17 regions
Most modern mobile phones
that can receive web data as well as voice calls are compatible
with the Trafficgauge data.
Why would you choose to buy
a Trafficgauge Mobile Traffic Map unit when you can get the same
information for free on your mobile phone? Simply because
the standalone hand-held unit is a more convenient way of
viewing the data, and also safer when driving in traffic.
But do be sure to bookmark their mobile traffic data page -
http://www.trafficgauge.com/cell.html - on your
mobile phone so when you're traveling away from home, you can
use their information in other cities too.
Other Sources of Traffic
Various GPS units come
complete with traffic data, but - disappointingly and
surprisingly - these generally all have
challenges and limitations. See our article on
GPS Traffic data and our
reviews of specific GPS units such as the
Garmin 660 and
Garmin 680 and the different
types of traffic data they provide.
There are also other data
services that can send data direct to your computer or cell
phone - for most of us, we'd prefer to have the data sent to our
cell phone so as to be able to access it while we're traveling.
Perhaps the service that
would seem to promise the most in terms of this type of traffic
service is provided by Google. But, and for reasons that
remain unexplained, Google's traffic data, at least in the
Seattle area, is horrendously unreliable. The same seems
true of many other providers of freeway data, and our conclusion
is that to get accurate freeway data you either need to go
direct to the major source of the data - ie, the local or state
department of transportation, or to Trafficgauge, who uniquely
seem to add value to the base data instead of somehow and
perplexingly mangle the data and subtract value from it, as is
the case with most of their competitors.
Where to Buy a Trafficgauge
The normal list price of a
Trafficgauge is $79.95, including one free month of service,
although there are occasionally discounts and other deals
The company currently has a
short term promotion (expiring mid August 2007), selling their units through regional
Costco stores (and online at
search for 'Traffic Gauge' - two words, not one single word, and
without the quotes) that sells the units for $19.95 each,
complete with either two months of free service (if bought in
store) or three months (if purchased online).
They also have an ongoing
promotion whereby if you sign up for six or more months of
service, they will send you, for free, a factory refurbished
unit. Use the discount code 'Gentlyused' (without the
quote marks) on their website.
The monthly cost for the
data depends on the length of service you sign up for. On
a month by month basis, you're paying $10/month (still a very
fair price if it saves you 9 hours of time during the month);
this drops to $7/month if you buy a year at a time, and if you
wish to make a one time single payment for a lifetime contract,
this is $180.
The Bottom Line
The Traffic Gauge Mobile
Traffic Map is a wonderful example of something where 'less is
more'. The designers set out to do one job very well, and
didn't get infected by 'feature-itis'. The net result is a
simple easy to use and easy to understand unit that tells you
simple but vital information about the state of traffic on your
It is affordable, and
current users report saving an average of nine hours time every
month they'd otherwise have wasted on the freeways.
So if you live in one of the
three areas they currently offer units for, why not get one, and
at least try it for the 30 day free return period. Chances
are you too will benefit from the unit and will choose to keep
Here's the most interesting
thing of all : By owning and using a Trafficgauge to help
direct your own freeway usage, your strategic and informed
driving decisions are making the freeways better for all other
users too. So, whether for your benefit or that of all
other drivers, do consider a Trafficgauge.
Costco.com, and various other discount online retailers such
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3 Aug 2007, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.