New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority just released a new app, MTA Subway Time, which provides accurate real-time information on subway arrivals for six of the numbered lines, including No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, plus the 42nd Street shuttle, covering 156 different stations in the city. Subway Time will allow commuters to plan trips down to the minute.
The app works with the countdown clocks that are linked to centralized computers, which have been installed in just seven of the city's 24 lines.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the system's age and the cost of upgrading has prevented it from being easily updated, though real-time coverage will roll out to other lines in the future. The first update will come in six to 12 months, when the L line is added.
The new app covers only about a third of the subway system, and agency officials acknowledged that it will likely take years of work and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment before conveniences increasingly common elsewhere are standard in the Big Apple.
The rest, encompassing two-thirds of its total stations and roughly 60% of its daily ridership, continues to rely on signal technology dating to the middle of the 20th century or earlier. It will be years before those lines have signal systems that can generate the digital information that drives countdown clocks on platforms and apps on cellphones with live updates.
Other cities have been quicker to incorporate current technology into existing transit systems. California's Bay Area Rapid Transit System, or BART, for example, has developed a web-based mobile app and in 2007, the city released open format transit data that third party developers were able to incorporate into their own apps.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority also provide information for third party developers.
New York Transit officials are hoping to inspire app developers to create third party apps as well, and a free live stream of arrival time data will be given to app developers.
Transit apps have become especially important with the release of iOS 6, because Apple Maps does not provide innate transit directions. Instead, the Maps program redirects users to download relevant routing apps like New York's new Subway Time.