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How would you like to save nine hours of time you otherwise waste every month?

The Trafficgauge gives simple but helpful information about local traffic conditions and its users report an average time saving of 9 hours a month from using this data.

Unfortunately Trafficgauge data is only available, at present, in the SFO, LAX and SEA areas (CHI coming in Q4 2007), but a free version that can be used on your cell phone offers coverage in other areas too.

 
 
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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.

Part 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.  Trafficgauge 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 too).

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 Map

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 lose!

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.

Areas Covered

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 too.

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 always current.

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.

Windshield Mount

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 Mobile Phone

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

  • Atlanta

  • Chicago

  • Denver

  • Houston

  • Los Angeles

  • Louisville

  • Milwaukee

  • Minneapolis

  • Phoenix

  • Portland

  • OC/Riverside/Inland Empire

  • Sacramento

  • Salt Lake City

  • San Diego

  • SF Bay Area

  • San Fernando

  • Seattle

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 Information

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 available.

The company currently has a short term promotion (expiring mid August 2007), selling their units through regional Costco stores (and online at Costco.com - 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 local freeways.

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 it.

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.

Available through their own website, Costco.com, and various other discount online retailers such as Amazon.

Recommended.

Read more in the GPS articles series

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Originally published 3 Aug 2007, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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