Lake County Motorist

Suburban Chicagoland commuter and motorist weblog

Gadget offers "real-time" traffic – and not much else

Eric Benderoff of the Chicago Tribune discusses the TrafficGauge, a $50 device whose sole purpose is to show current Chicagoland expressway traffic conditions. The device’s vendor claims that their customers appreciate having frequently updated traffic data. Well, who doesn’t? I just don’t think this device is the best way to access that data.

Here’s why I think this device is pointless:

  1. All it does is report traffic. That’s it. It doesn’t suggest a less-congested route.
  2. The map is fixed, and the user can’t zoom in on roads of interest.
  3. It only relays information for major expressways, and this information is already available from other sources.
  4. It doesn’t innovate. If it offered something more than what (free) radio and (free) internet traffic reports offer – for instance, surface street traffic or Metra and El delays – there may be some value.
  5. Purchasing the device alone won’t get you anything. You must then pay $5-$10 per month for the traffic reports. This is competitive with several GPS vendors’ traffic service, as well as traffic service for mobile telephones.
  6. The traffic information is provided in monochrome. Road congestion is communicated via blinking black dashes. A device designed for use while driving should convey as much information as possible in a quick glance, which in my opinion means using color:  red for heavy congestion, yellow for medium congestion and green for light congestion. TrafficGauge seems to understand this convention, as the maps that they provide for mobile phones and online access are in color.
  7. No text-to-speech functionality. It doesn’t recite the traffic conditions. Guess what does? The radio. There are satellite radio stations that do nothing but recite traffic conditions 24 hours a day for a given city. If this device could combine that constant traffic loop with GPS (perhaps reciting traffic for roads in the user’s vicinity), that would be a selling point.
  8. It’s $50, which I consider expensive for something with such limited functionality.

With a few improvements, the TrafficGauge may yet find its niche. At this time, however, I would not recommend the device. You’d be better off spending $100 more for an inexpensive GPS unit and subscribing to its manufacturer’s real-time traffic reports. If you are a Lake County commuter you can combine WBBM 780 AM’s Traffic on the 8’s radio reports with 1620 AM Lake County Passage reports that concentrate on county roads and major streets. Now that’s a value proposition.

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