Modernizing the MTA has been one of CEO and Chairman Jay Walder’s primary goals during his year-long tenure, but that effort comes with a price. It is exceedingly expensive to bring 21st Century technology to a 20th Century subway system, and nowhere is that more evident than in the push to bring countdown clocks underground. Billed at $200 million, the current A Division effort covers just 152 subway stations and leaves over 300 without the technology. The MTA has tried a lower cost effort at bringing train announcements to the B Division, but this other system does not come with the benefits of a full PA/CIS system.
Yet, Walder realizes that some information is better than no information, and he’s tried to bring anything online that he can. Earlier this year, for instance, Walder brought on board a class of interns to address the issue of cell service underground, and the project set back the agency just $30,000, far less than a professional consulting treatment would cost. Today, Jonathan Wegener, co-creator of the Exit Strategy NYC app, gets into the act as he suggests some low-cost real-time subway tracking solutions.
By and large, Wegener’s solutions rely on installing sound-detecting equipment on MTA or other private property. One solution calls for using a wifi-enabled iPod Touch’s accelerometer to detect the rumble of passing trains, and another relies on directional microphones to pick up the sounds from ventilation grates as trains go past. He also calls for webcams aimed at the Manhattan Bridge trains or motion sensors at subway entrances that can detect large crowds of people leaving a station. The webcams seem to be the most immediately viable of the four, but Wegener’s larger point is that some creative thinking can identify solutions to seemingly expensive transit problems. He calls for reader suggestions and could generate more potentially workable solutions from those ideas as well. [Back of the Envelope]