Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cool real-time transit data

The New York Times has a story today about the real-time subway monitors in place on the L line, and how the line manager Greg Lombardi has set up a pilot program at Myrtle-Wyckoff where he installed flat-screen televisions to display the actual locations of all the trains on the line instead of just the estimated wait times.

I think this is a great idea, but it got me wondering: why stop there? I've read (sorry, I can't remember where) a great idea about wait times: why not have them displayed at the subway entrances - for example, at the top of the computerized screens that are now used 24/7 for ads - so that people know whether they have time to stop and grab a bagel, or whether they need to get downstairs as fast as possible? Or more importantly, display the service interruption announcements so that people can go upstairs and take the M instead?

Also, why not make this information available on the Web? Metro-North already allows you to see the Big Board online so you know when the next local to Stamford is. I'd love to see where all the L trains are. People who have web-enabled phones could see the information wherever they are.

For that matter, why not make it available as an XML stream, that computer/train geeks could do whatever they want with? They could feed it into their BAHN simulators, but also come up with all kinds of applications. A gallery in Williamsburg could put up something on their web site that says, "Come visit us! Take the L to Lorimer Street. The next train is leaving Union Square in six minutes!" The possibilities are endless.

Going further still, why not put historical data online in a queryable database? Researchers could look into bunching problems, on-time performance, and all kinds of things. Yeah, they're probably things that Mr. Lombardi doesn't want everybody knowing about - too many cooks and all that - but a proud manager has nothing to fear.


CityLights said...

"Mr. Lombardi went to Circuit City and bought three 42-inch flat-screen television sets on sale for $999 each."

Imagine if all managers bought hardware themselves instead of going through the typical corporate bureaucratic nightmare of placing an order. The MTA would be able to fire hundreds of paper-pushers and save millions of dollars.

Regarding real-time location notifications, this is great and should be done, but it feels like we are giving up on train schedules. In Japan, such online systems exist to help you plan your route, but they rely on schedules exclusively and don't have to be updated in real time. But in Japan, the trains run on time...

Peter said...

i know the google maps/transit folks have talked about the ability to display this type of information.