Cool transit apps come down the pike as MTA loosens restrictions
Norman Scherer used MTA data for an app listing historic sites along bus routes
Imagine being able to find out exactly where a bus is see through a tweet on your phone? Or clicking to find out if they’ve finally fixed that busted escalator at your station?
Soon, straphangers can expect a bonanza of new transit apps offering plenty of gee-whiz services, adding to an already rich collection that is changing the way New Yorkers commute.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” said Norman Scherer, 53, who attends periodic beer and pizza Meetup fests for developers making transit apps. “They have attracted all these crazy geeky guys who love making apps.”
What’s driving the explosion is the MTA itself. Previously, developers got the cold shoulder from the agency, having to pay big bucks for data or request it through a gruelingly slow process. MTA CEO Jay Walder did a 180 in January, with the agency joining 110 other transit agencies across the world making its gold mine of transit data freely available, according to City-Go-Round, a group pressing for open source data.
“It really is a night and day difference,” said Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, 25, a developer who hosts the Meetup sessions at his tech company’s Lafayette Street penthouse, which the MTA now attends.
Since January, the MTA has gotten more than 1,100 requests for the data, mostly for bus and subway schedules, according to agency figures. Developers are also hungry for Metro-Card usage stats and real-time arrival data, said Sarah Kaufman, the MTA’s coordinator of “Emerging and Intelligent Transportation Systems.”
“An app about … when the trains are coming, that’d be nice,” said Amy Alexander, 28, a West Village rider.
Scherer used the scheduling information for “History Bus,” his app providing trivia along bus routes. Before January, he had to schlep to each bus stop to record the schedules.
“That will never happen again,” Scherer said.
The public is snapping up transit-related apps, as they provide useful information to people out “in the real world,” said Allison Mooney, of MobileBehavior, a consulting firm that tracks apps.
Developers and MTA staff will get to geek out on May 5 at the first “MTA Unconference,” a free event where the agency will release new, top-secret data sets.
“It’s a wonderful shift,” said Bergson-Shilcock, who awaits the day when app users can wait for trains aboveground, because they’ll know exactly when their train is due.
(Robert Levin contributed to this story)
What transit apps do now:
- The Next Train: Delivers offline train schedules up to 14 days in advance
- Exit Strategy: Shows which train car to stand in to link up the station exit
- Across Air: Uses augmented reality to show the nearest stations in reference to a user’s location
What apps could be doing soon:
- Send tweets about the location of buses along 34th street and the L train
- Show which subway entrance is the best to enter to catch a line in big transit hubs
- Indicate which entrance has a MetroCard machine or gate for those with strollers or bikes