Like many New Yorkers, London native Will Ryan found the city’s bus system nearly impossible to navigate during a visit last fall.
“Any time I found myself in a strange area, I found it quite hard to decipher all of the signs and maps to find out when the next bus was coming,” Ryan, 26, said.
His first instinct was to search for an app on his iPhone, but he came up empty. So he just made his own.
Ryan is one of many software developers who’ve taken matters into their own hands and created apps for commuters. And that’s perfectly fine with the MTA, who released its internal data last year to enable tech “whiz kids” to create the dozens of apps now available on MTA.info.
“We’re open to exploring any solution that would create any more real-time data for our customers,” said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. “We acknowledge that a lot of the best and brightest talents that exist towards this effort are beyond the walls of the MTA.”
Developers say it’s hard to get reliable real-time information since the MTA only has GPS tracking on one Brooklyn bus route and does not yet share its subway countdown clock data. Plus, its printed schedule is often unreliable.
So several app developers are trying to get around all of that by creating their own data. Here’s a look at some of their developments, and the new upgrades they’re planning:
App: Bus New York City ($1.99)
Ryan’s app, Bus NYC, is straightforward. GPS finds your location when you launch the program. Tap the nearest bus stop, and you’ll see when the next bus should arrive.
By October, the app will send users a notification if there are delays on a preferred route during at a specific time, and the app will be translated to other languages. A similar subway app is also in the works.
App: NYC Mate (Free)
Device: iPhone and Android
The app estimates subway’s real-time status based on user’s cell phone location, tracking when they lose signal or change service towers (Don’t worry, developer Alex Bell, 23, says, it doesn’t waste battery life or keep personal info).
But since the app relies on user data, it needs more people to download the app to predict subway arrival times.
Bell, a recent Columbia grad, is also planning a similar feature for buses and is creating a small device he hopes the MTA will install on buses to make the data more reliable.
App: Roadify (Free)
While Roadify uses traffic information from the transportation department and MTA to recommend the fastest ways to zip around the city, this app relies on its users to report up-to-the-minute information. They are asked to “give” information to others, from free parking spots to subway conditions.
“There’s a human element that numbers just can’t report,” said Roadify designer Dylan Goetz, 23. “You don’t know if [the subway is] freezing or if there’s a guy passed out inside or someone’s being a jerk or smells bad.” User reports are meant to give other straphangers “a neighborly heads up.”
The app is testing out a new feature in Brooklyn that helps drivers compare fuel costs. And by August, Roadify hopes to incorporate transportation-related tweets, commuter rail and ferry schedules, and expand its gas price-comparing pilot.