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.