Google and Apple taken to task over inaccurate travel estimates
Innamincka is more than 1,000 kilometres from Adelaide, along the unsealed Strzelecki Track. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Two communities in South Australia are calling on technology giants Apple and Google to review their mapping technology, amid claims inaccuracies are costing both towns crucial tourism trade.
Innamincka in the state’s far north-east is nearly 1,200 kilometres from Adelaide in central Australia.
Port Lincoln sits on the Eyre Peninsula coast, 650 kilometres from the capital.
The two communities could not be more different but face the same challenge from different sources.
Google Maps ‘wrong’
Innamincka is home to 12 people and is famous for its role in the infamous Burke and Wills exploration.
The explorers died on the banks of Cooper Creek near Innamincka in 1861, as they attempted to return to Melbourne after reaching the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The town forms a key link to Birdsville in central Australia and tourism is its key economic driver.
Google Maps had said it takes nearly 24 hours to drive from Adelaide to Innamincka — an estimation described by Innamincka business owner Ali Matthews as “completely wrong” — but has since updated it to 16 hours.
“It takes me roughly 12 hours to drive between Innamincka and Adelaide,” Ms Matthews said.
“I just don’t understand how they could have it so wrong … maybe they’re tracking the time it took the Google car to drive up the Strzelecki Track.”
The Matthews family live and run a business at Innamincka in South Australia’s far north-east. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
She said the inaccuracy plays a role in the weekly running of her accommodation business.
“I always get lots of phone calls from travellers asking how long it will actually take to get out here.
“It’s really off-putting for people, especially first-timers coming out thinking, ‘Oh my God, the distances are just too far; we aren’t going to be able to make it’.”
“People during the holiday periods travelling with kids might see that time and decide it’s just too far; we can’t be bothered.”
The Strzelecki Track is almost 500 kilometres of unsealed road and a key route to Innamincka in South Australia’s remote north-east. (ABC North and West: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
She said Google Australia needed to act immediately.
“They really need to come out here and re-evaluate their times and distances,” Ms Matthews said.
“In the tourism season I get at least two phone calls a week asking about the time and distance … if they weren’t to ring up after looking it up then it would definitely impact the business that we get.
“We are a long way from anything, but if they are getting the times that far out then we’re definitely missing out on business.”
Ferry suggestion ‘a great concern’
Port Lincoln is an prosperous city known as the ‘tuna capital of the world’, with tourists attracted to its beauty and the rugged surrounds of Eyre Peninsula.
Jack Ritchie says tourists may be put off coming to Port Lincoln because travel advice from Apple Maps is incorrect. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Samantha Jonscher)
Apple Maps says travellers need to catch a ferry across South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf to make it to Port Lincoln, despite the fact the city is accessible by road via links from National Highway 1.
Chairman of Port Lincoln’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Jack Ritchie, said the misinformation needed to be rectified.
“It certainly does surprise me that this information is given by the app — there is a ferry but it isn’t running at the moment and hasn’t for some time,” Mr Ritchie said.
“It’s a great concern to us and to businesses in Port Lincoln that that information is getting out to travellers.”
There has been an on-and-off ferry service across the Upper Spencer Gulf for many years, which is currently not running.
He was unaware how long the app had suggested a ferry was the only option.
The reward for getting up at the crack of dawn in South Australia’s Port Lincoln. (ABC Open contributor Luke Gardner)
“It has the potential to impact the choices people make,” he said.
“If they find that’s the way to get here and they don’t have a more complete understanding of how to get here, and they find out the ferry isn’t running, it impacts their experience and they are unlikely to look at the option again.
“One would hope they look further than that, but we can’t guarantee that either.”
Tech giants review advice
A spokesperson for Google Australia said it sourced travel time information from a variety of sources, including third-party providers, public sources, and user contributions.
“Overall, this provides a very comprehensive and up-to-date map experience, but we recognise that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said “the map has now been updated to better reflect the road quality and time it would take to travel between Adelaide and Innamincka”, which the app now says takes 16 hours — compared to local estimates of 12 hours.
Apple did not respond to ABC requests for comment.