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MTA looks for a cut from mobile phone applications

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The MTA wants in on the iPhone application action.

The agency is cracking down on computer programmers who use the agency's travel data for mobile phone applications. The programs, such as StationStops and theNextTrain, allow users to download train schedules to view while they’re underground.

Chris Schoenfeld, for example, said he was told to stop selling his Metro North application after he balked at the MTA’s demands for a $5,000 licensing fee plus royalties earlier this month. Apple hasn’t responded yet to the MTA’s request to remove the program, which has sold 3,000 copies, Schoenfeld said.

“It just infuriates me. They've tried to crush a small business,” said Schoenfeld, 42, a former Yahoo engineer.

MTA officials contend the agency deserves a cut if developers rake in money from the apps, which cost about $3 each. The agency provides the data for free to developers of applications that don’t cost anything, said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan.

The MTA offers schedules on phones with Internet access through its Trip Planner page on mta.info, and optimized its entire Web site last year for mobile devices. The MTA now receives 1.5 million hits a month from handheld devices , Donovan said.

“The site has a lot of the same benefits as these other applications,” he said.

In a news release last year, the MTA stated that it would make scheduling data available to programmers to develop new “customer-focused services in the future.” Software writers had a rude awakening when they realized it would not be free.

“This is fact-based information, just like what's in a phone book,” said Jehiah Czebotar, 28, of Manhattan, who is fighting to keep selling a LIRR application.

Nearly 40 transit agencies in the U.S.- including the systems in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston - have released the information for developers to freely use through a Google transit feed. Many of the agencies argue that it drives ridership and relieves them of the burden of creating on-line applications.

A City Council bill under consideration would require all local agencies to make their data available in a format useable to programmers, and the mayor's office is sponsoring a competition for developers to make the best application for city data.

“Why isn't that train data available? The public needs this,” said Samuel Wong, a technology aide for City Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan).

Transit info on the go:
CityTransit, iTrans: Both provide service advisories, walking directions and schedules for the subways
Exit Strategy NYC: Guides users to the subway car that lines up with the closest exit in their station

hhaddon@am-ny.com

 

Tags: nyc , mta , subways

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