Ina Fried

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New York Makes Subway Arrival Times Available to Mobile Apps

There are plenty of apps that offer up info on New York’s popular subways. But, until today, none offered exact train arrival times.

New York is now serving up that information via mobile apps for seven of its lines, with plans to add more lines over time.

The Metropolitan Transit Agency on Friday offered up an iOS test app for the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and S shuttle lines. The data will also be on its Web site and in a feed that can be used by other app developers.

“This is what generations of dreamers and futurists have waited for,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota, in a statement.

Well, I’m not sure about that. Those in San Francisco and other places have long had that data, but it’s still useful that it is coming to one of America’s busiest public transit systems.

“The ability to get subway arrival time at street level is here,” Lhota said. “The days of rushing to a subway station only to find yourself waiting motionless in a state of uncertainty are coming to an end. Now, you can know from the comfort of your home or office whether to hasten to the station, or grab a cup of coffee as part of a leisurely walk.”

MTA says its Subway Time app can handle 5,000 requests per second, and builds on the countdown clocks that are already in place inside many subway stations.

But, as The Wall Street Journal explains, the task of expanding this feature to cover the entire system is formidable. The real-time train location information comes from new computer-connected sensors that were installed along the first set of lines at a cost of more than $228 million over 11 years. Adding such sensors across the remaining two-thirds of the system will take years and hundreds of millions more. And a separate project to extend cell service to underground stations won’t be completed until 2016.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work