Borders vs. Algorithms: A Rome2rio Dilemma

Published July 1, 2013

A significant challenge for Rome2rio’s development team revolves around the manner in which we recognise and treat political boundaries and borders, so that search results and drive overlays do not return unrealistic travel options.  We often get feedback from our users on this topic: search results such as the one below, Melbourne to Tel Aviv, demonstrate why. We correctly offer the option of flying into Amman, Jordan and then using a combination of buses and taxis to continue the trip to Tel Aviv, crossing the border at the King Hussein (or Allenby, depending on which side you approach it from) Bridge. Hmmm… while this route is certainly possible, it is perhaps not a journey many travelers would be willing to take. Israeli citizens, in fact, are not permitted to use the border crossing station at Allenby, so this route is simply not an option for them.

Tel_AMM
 
Technically correct, but practically unlikely for most travelers.

 

Another example of this dilemma is the US-Mexico border.  A search for journey options from Rosarito to San Diego suggests that a taxi will make the trip in just under an hour. Well, yes, but then again perhaps not. Even if a taxi were allowed to pass—it wouldn’t be—it would spend a couple of hours waiting to cross the border, no matter what time of day. So our result fails on a couple of scores. While the algorithm has produced a “perfect” result, we sadly live in an imperfect, complicated world, where perfect is not always useful.

 

Rosarito1
A pity about the San Ysidro Border Crossing…

 

We are committed to improving Rome2rio’s methodology so that in cases where political or geographical boundaries make certain results impractical, those results are minimized or eliminated.  While we continue to perfect our methodology we appreciate any feedback pointing to results that are less than ideal: if you’re aware of a Rome2rio search result that is practically challenging (or just plain impossible), let us know.

— Rod Cuthbert
Written by
Executive Chairman of Rome2rio
Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at rome2rio.com
  • Hi guys,

    I think a simpler example would be this: Seoul to Pyongyang. The map suggests a taxi taking 3 hours, 22 minutes and costing $200. The flight results are there (and look like an origami bird when you zoom out). I guess the trickier issue is how to make the results relevant to a person’s nationality (as in the Israel issue) without placing burdens on them before searching. Maybe a toggle option to appear when politically sensitive routes are served (ie: an Israeli & non-Israeli option) with special highlighting of politically sensitive routes (dotted red line for example).

    I guess it comes down to a core philosophical decision as to whether you want rome2rio to be useful for everyone or 99% of people and trips. That extra 1% is what makes the difference between great and legendary (see Google’s Patrick Pichette’s comments about how they want internet access to be available to everyone, not kind of everyone, almost everyone but: everyone).

    Cheers,

    Christian