You can now find out when the next subway train will arrive simply by looking at your smartphone. The MTA launched a smartphone app that shows real-time train arrival times on seven of the city’s 24 lines.
The initial release of Subway Time covers the 156 stations of the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 trains, as well as the 42nd Street S shuttle.
“Today is the day that generations of dreamers and futurists have waited for,” said outgoing MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota. “The ability to get subway arrival time at street level is here. The days of rushing to a subway station only to find yourself waiting motionless in a state of uncertainty are coming to an end. Now, you can know from the comfort of your home or office whether to hasten to the station, or grab a cup of coffee as part of a leisurely walk.”
MTA Subway Time is designed to handle up to 5,000 incoming requests per second. To improve performance and reliability, the data that powers Subway Time is among the first MTA products to be hosted on an open cloud-based system. By storing data in the cloud, as managed by the company Acquia, the MTA can organically expand and contract its data needs to match changing demand as it fluctuates over the course of the day and the year.
The cloud-based approach proved its worth during Superstorm Sandy, when demand for the mta.info website spiked to many times normal levels. Rather than strain its own computer servers, the MTA migrated the website to the Acquia cloud, where it remained available and reliable throughout the storm to provide immediate information to customers.
Only part of the subway system is equipped with signalling that can generate a digital feed that can be pushed out to smartphones.
Getting this information from the rest of the system will take time.
“It has a much more antiquated signal system and we’re in the process of doing it,” Lhota said Friday. “Two to three years.”
“The pent up demand on the part of the riding public is there and it’s very hard for them to understand, ‘If here, why not there?’” Lhota told Murnane.
New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast said this system is next bound for the 7 and L trains and is the end result of decades of upgrades in the system.
“Think of Subway Time as the small tip of a huge iceberg. For a product of this quality to be available on the lettered lines, we will need to commit hundreds of millions of dollars and years of dedicated effort.”
“The existence of this sleek digital interface barely hints at the investment that had to be made in terms of hardware and infrastructure to make this enormous public benefit a reality,” Prendergast said. “Think of Subway Time as the small tip of a huge iceberg. For a product of this quality to be available on the lettered lines, we will need to commit hundreds of millions of dollars and years of dedicated effort.”
Right now, it’s only available for iPhone and iPod Touch devices and works at above ground stations as well as those few underground facilities that are equipped with cell phone or Wi-Fi service. An Android version is planned.
There was already a free App that has train arrival countdowns, and has them for every stop on all 24 lines. However, the NextStop app does that using the schedule, whereas the new app will be based on the actual position of the trains and will account for delays.
What do you think, good or bad idea?
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