Anticipating real-time subway arrival data

By · Published in 2012

A glimpse through the March MTA Board meeting materials revealed to the world a long-awaited development from the transit authority. The MTA had issued a procurement call for the technology to release a real-time data feed of available subway arrival information. The feed would cover the A Division lines that currently enjoy the benefits of countdown clocks and would open up a whole new world of transit data for app developers.

Earlier today, I spent the morning at an event at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and this upcoming data feed was a hot topic. The early a.m. event focused on technology and urban mobility. It featured panelists from the MTA and PATH and developers from Google Transit and OpenPlans (as well as Adam Ernst, a Second Ave. Sagas advertiser). Ernest Tollerson, the MTA’s Director of Environmental Sustainability & Compliance, opened the talk with a brief discussion on the real-time data feed.

According to Tollerson, the authority hopes to have the train arrival estimates ready to go later this year. At the time, app developers will be able to grab this information that covers 37 percent of all subway riders. It will be, he said, “a transformative moment in the life of the city and the MTA.”

Now, we’ve known about the looming public release of this data for a few weeks, but Tollerson let slip some additional info as well. After the real-time data streams are live, the authority will look for ways to push out real-time information for B Division lines that are elevated or at-grade. In other words, most lines out in Brooklyn and Queens would be in line to receive these feeds as well.

Tollerson and the rest of the panelists spoke about the ways in which transit technology can make trips more convenient. If we know what’s happening where and when before we leave our house, we are better prepared for delays or the need to find alternate routes. Making the voluminous train location data available to the public is a huge step for the MTA and for the millions of people who ride the subways every day. That moment cannot come soon enough.

Categories : MTA Technology

19 Responses to “Anticipating real-time subway arrival data”

  1. Andy says:

    As an software developer I’m pretty excited about this. It should not be hard to make an app that helps you time leaving your house so you reach the station just before a train arrives. (Until everyone uses it and there is a mob of people at the entrance)
    Is there any information on what format the data will be available in? Probably should look at the bus tracking info for a start.

  2. Shamequa says:

    Does anyone know when the B Divisions will get countdown clocks?

  3. Noah says:

    Having the information available before you leave your house is only third of a solution. The other third is creating the behavior to check service status before one leaves the house and the final third is accurate, clear, jargon free and succinct dissemination about service changes and disruptions while en route.
    While the final third will obviously take significant infrastructure development and training for both the operators and the public, the second third is obviously more open to development about how to accomplish that goal. Scheduling trip reminders will work for some travelers. For example a person who makes regular trips can easily be notified about service disruptions that will effect their regular trips. The problem is that services that currently exist aren’t customizable enough, for example a commuter who makes trips on the LIRR can receive alerts about his/her line, but stops reading them because chances are that the majority of alerts come when that commuter has no plans to ride the train.

    • digamma says:

      One way to implement simple user-friendly service information would be via Trip Planner Plus. If you travel regularly from Long Island City to the World Trade Center, you probably take the E. If Trip Planner Plus could recognize that as your routine, you could subscribe to changes to it. Then, one day, they’d break the E for service. And you’d get an email saying “Um, it looks like you need to take the 7 to Times Square and switch to the 2 to Park Place today.”

      • Noah says:

        That’s theoretically a good idea. However when a traveler starts getting those alerts in the middle of the night or when he/she doesn’t normally take trips, the traveler will then begin to ignore the alerts or unsubscribe because they become an annoyance.

  4. Shamequa says:

    That link is broken. Any other links?

  5. Shamequa says:

    Thanks John- SO basically they are going to be installing these next year through the year 2017 ?

  6. Ray says:

    Hi. Few questions. Reviewing the capital plan link (thank you John) for the B division work, what is the definition of a “plan year”? MTA plans to ‘allocate’ the entire $200M by Plan Year ’13. Yet, they describe an implementation schedule that lasts until ’17. Are these funds released for commitment to a scope of work/contract in the plan year then held in escrow until milestones/payments to the contractors are due?

    Also, any idea if the contractors that completed the A division work will get the B division business? (I vaguely remember some disagreements). Does it make sense to have separate systems from different vendors? Or does it not matter? Thanks.

  7. Ivan says:

    While I think it’s great that this data becomes available, as far as the use case of “getting to the station right before the train arrives goes”, none of this would be necessary if the trains ran on time. 🙂

    In Switzerland, you can use the arrival of a train, tram, or to a lesser extent, bus, to set your watch. Isn’t there anything we can learn from them?

  8. Spendmore Wastemore says:

    Now how about getting the d*&m things to actually #move#.

    It takes a D, N, or R train over eight minutes to clank it’s way one stop from Manhattan to Atlantic ave (2 for the R if stop at DeKalb). It’s under 2 miles. Do that ten times per week and you’ve lost 80 minutes of your life for a half hour’s worth of motion. You could die wasting time on the D-N-R!1. And that was just _one_ stop.
    Yeah, there are switches to cross etc … and highways posted for 75mph have exits. Keep in mind that the slower the trains run, the more trains, TOs and managers MTA ‘needs’. There’s always an excuse to make a bureaucracy larger, slower, and less productive.


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  3. Quora says:

    When will the MTA (New York City) get real-time subway information that can be accessed via mobile or a website?…

    By the end of 2012, according to Ernest Tollerson, the MTA’s Director of Environmental Sustainability and Compliance ( There are already apps in place to take advanta…

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