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New LIRR text alerts part of bigger plan, says MTA

Ryan Thompson, co-founder of CooCoo, which allows LIRR

Ryan Thompson, co-founder of CooCoo, which allows LIRR train riders to get updated schedules by text message, demonstrates the service at MTA headquarters in Manhattan. (Jan. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Dave Sanders

A new system to provide commuters with Long Island Rail Road schedule information via text message is an early step in a plan to provide better MTA customer service at a cheaper cost, transit officials said Monday.

At a news conference at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Manhattan headquarters, MTA chief and chairman Jay Walder joined with LIRR president Helena Williams and representatives of Long Island-based text engine company CooCoo.

The pilot program, which is already up and running, allows LIRR riders to get schedule information on their commutes by texting their origin station and destination to 266266.

Users get an immediate response with the next five trains, and any information on delays or other service information.

The service is provided free, although standard text messaging rates apply.

Walder called the service "an exciting new tool" and said the MTA would continue to work with software developers to launch many more new customer services initiatives.

"This is simple. It's clever," Walder said. "Everybody sitting here can think of a time that it would be nice to be able to do it."

The new service is also in line with Walder's goal of making the MTA more efficient. LIRR officials said the agency spends $1.8 million each year on its call center, which handles about 3 million calls each year.

Of the 30 percent of calls that require a customer service representative, about 70 percent are standard schedule and fare questions, officials said.

Walder also said he hoped the new texting system would be a step toward getting the MTA "out of the mode that we're in of literally printing thousands and thousands of schedules."

MTA officials said they were working on getting CooCoo to offer fare information as well.

CooCoo founder John Tunney praised the LIRR for "setting the bar" for transit agencies using technology to provide customer service.

LIRR Commuter Council chairwoman Maureen Michaels called it a "convenient new service.

"Too bad it coincides with the announced reduction in service," she added. "One step forward, then two steps back."

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