July 6, 2018: So Many Apps For That

The MTA launched its first site redesign in about a decade along with a new, unified app called MYmta—yes, the “my” is capitalized and the “MTA” is not—both of which are in beta. The website is very much an extension of the app and I think the app is more important to talk about, so let’s talk about it.

As reported by the Daily News’s Dan Rivoli, the MTA’s managing director Ronnie Hakim wanted to get the agency back into the app game rather than focusing on providing the best data possible to third-party developers because “riders want/trust info directly from MTA.” I’m not entirely sure what that means—the arrival times published by the likes of Google Maps and Citymapper are from the MTA’s API, and those error-riddled Cuomo Clocks haven’t exactly done much to facilitate trust between riders and the MTA—but this app doesn’t accomplish it. In some cases, it even actively undermines the “want/trust info directly from MTA” line Hakim is peddling.

What happens when the MTA builds its own transit app? Silly things. All subway arrival times are given as an actual time (8:26 PM) instead of a countdown (5 minutes).

According to MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, this was intentional because most of their feedback demanded it:

Aaron Donovan@Aaron_Donovan

The large majority of feedback from our customer focus groups and surveys showed most folks wanted the arrival times via smartphone, and countdown clock while on platform. We are investigating making this a setting where you can select either/or.

July 2, 2018
Frankly, I find this unbelievable. The only use for knowing that time is to then figure out how long you have until that time. Every third party app (and every other transit agency’s app/arrival data I’m aware of) knows this and therefore provides the countdown when live arrival times are available. This alone is a reason for me not to use the app regularly.

(To be perfectly clear, I’m not accusing Donovan of lying. The MTA press officers relay the information they’re told. But something got distorted in the game of MTA telephone between whoever decided this and the press office.)

There are other, more substantive issues as well. For one, it sometimes offers some strange trip planning results (more on that later):

Patrick O'Hara@c3pohara

And some of the trip planner results are bonkers. First non station-to-station request I tried returned a crazy result...has a connection from NYK-JAM leave 27 minutes earlier than scheduled (5:51p), and then drive between two transit stops...?? pic.twitter.com/dsh8KHvsri

July 3, 2018
And the arrival times (once converted from time-of-day to countdown, of course) do not match the MTA’s other apps and the countdown clocks in stations:

Paul Goebel@paul__goebel

I already complained about this exact same issue on the app. I also compared the SubwayTime arrival times to the app's arrival times and they were off. Also for arrival times, it doesn't help that they separate the 4/5, 2/3, etc. on route planning when either line works.

July 2, 2018
Henry Rosoff@HenryRosoff

Played around with the “my MTA” app... still discretions between times given in the app versus platform boards... Will tweet pictures on my evening commute

July 6, 2018
I have lots of smaller quibbles, but you get the idea. It’s not reliable. And if there’s one thing I want from a transit app, it’s reliability. I want to know the information being displayed is as accurate and precise as possible. So far, this app does not do that.

But on a fundamental level the app is simply not good at providing the best directions from A to B. It currently displays transit results solely for MTA properties: subway, bus, Metro North, LIRR, walking, and driving (???). Sometimes I like to walk or bike, even if it takes a a little bit longer than public transit. At the very least, I prefer to know my options. But MYmta doesn’t show me, for example, that the below trip would only take ten minutes more to do entirely on foot, and ten minutes less by bike (as it happens, the 40 minute walk would be through Prospect Park, something I would also glean from third party apps that show a map of the prospective routes along with the search results).

Yes, I know, I have “Fastest” selected in this screenshot, but the results were the same in the other tabs, too.

So, yes, this is a beta, but a beta with a lot of fundamental problems. Maybe some or all of these things will get fixed! I hope they do. But at the moment, there is no reason for MYmta to exist.

I was not this hard on the app at first. I even said the following:

Aaron W. Gordon@A_W_Gordon

After using the app for most of yesterday, with the acknowledgement it's very much a beta, I think the bones are there to have it be a very useful transit app by the time tap payment rolls out. Now the question is how quickly issues can be addressed/new features added. https://t.co/51nVf5LpuA

July 3, 2018
But after a few more days with it, I’ve only grown more frustrated by the inconsistent results, the omission of useful details and occasionally bizarre trip planning.

The final straw: just now, at 8:54 PM on a Thursday, I routed a journey from my apartment in central Brooklyn to my parents’ house in Connecticut, which is very close to a Metro-North stop on the New Haven line. MYmta recommended I take the 2 train for 22 stops to Harlem where I should walk for 11 minutes to the 125th St Metro-North station, instead of doing what I usually do which is take the Q to the 4/5 to Grand Central (six stops) and get on Metro North there. MYmta’s route is predicted to take an extra hour, or about 33 percent longer, than the obviously better route anyone with a subway map could figure out for themselves.

News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood

  • Adam Fisher-Cox, the guy who did the redesigned countdown clocks a few weeks ago, had also been working on a new MTA website redesign. He compared his template with the myMTA design.

  • Andy Byford gets the New Yorker feature profile treatment. It’s worth reading, I think, but don’t expect a wealth of new information or insight. The biggest revelations are that he has not yet spoken to Mayor de Blasio and the Metrocard Vending Machines can only be rebooted by some guy named Miguel.

  • CityLab has run an excellent series on the importance of buses to urban life. I highly recommend every article.

  • The Times breaks into the profiling-a-young-person-running-MTA’s-social-media genre.

  • Some Bronx stations are getting the definitely-not-Enhanced-Station-Initiative treatment: 145 St on the 3, 167 St B/D, and 174-175 Sts B/D. The work at the three stations will cost a total of $88 million. All three stations will experience months of closures.

  • Vice’s interview with the person running the L train shutdown repairs is a good example of how the MTA would get a lot more slack from the public if they allowed the knowledgeable, hard-working folks at the agency to communicate directly with reporters and the public rather than having their messages go through several layers of bureaucratic games of telephone.

  • The Daily News editorial board comes out swinging against the Cuomo AirTrain: “Last Monday, Gov. Cuomo promised a 30-minute mass transit ride with one transfer from Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport, via his future AirTrain, now hopefully pegged at $1.5 billion. Last Tuesday, we headed to LaGuardia, and it took just 27 minutes on mass transit with one transfer from Times Square to Terminal B. Cost: one subway ride. That’s the way to go.”

  • Commuting by public transit vs driving may contribute to higher levels of happiness (insert MTA joke here).

  • The N/W was shut down for “track replacement” last weekend, but a tipster sent in a photo that showed some work on the “completed” enhanced stations as well. I also received multiple reports (but, alas, no photos) of the new roof leaking during last week’s rain storm.

  • This is not transit related, but in the wider context of our city’s public infrastructure, it is transit-related: one in 14 New Yorkers live in NYCHA buildings and, according to a new NYCHA report, it will cost $31.8 billion over the next five years to restore its 2,413 into working order because they’ve been horribly neglected for the last half-century. Sound vaguely familiar?

In Which I Make An Educated Guess About When Things Will Get Better

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log:

May 25, 2018: June 2022

March 30, 2018: 2030

March 16, 2018: 2024

February 2, 2018: 2021

January 20, 2018: 2020

Your Upcoming Service Advisories, Provided by Lance from Subway Weekender

Note: the service advisories reflect what Lance has judged to be the most disruptive changes. Be sure to check the maps or the MTA website for a full list of service changes.

I’ve noticed the maps aren’t very easy to read in this email. I’m working on a better solution, but for now I’m going to do away with the image embedded in the email itself. If you don’t like this solution, please complain by replying to this email.

Weekend:

  • 2 - multiple diversions

    • No service between Gun Hill Rd and 241 Street

    • No service between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av

  • 4 5 - All service is local-only between 125 Street and Grand Central

  • 5 - Limited service

  • D - All service runs via A, F lines between 59 St-Columbus Circle and Coney Island

  • E R - Manhattan-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • F - All service runs via Q, D lines between Lexington Av-63 St and Coney Island

  • G - No service between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and Court Square

  • J - No service between Crescent St and Jamaica Center

  • N - All service runs via R line between Canal St and Atlantic Av

  • Q - Coney Is.-bound service is express-only between Prospect Park and Kings Hwy

 Full service change map here.

Late nights:

  • 1 - No service between Chambers St and South Ferry

  • 3 - No service

  • 4 6 - Downtown service is express-only in Manhattan

  • D - Manhattan-bound service runs via N line between Coney Island and 36 St/4 Av

  • F - multiple diversions

    • No service between 18 Avenue and Coney Island

    • Downtown service runs via E line between Roosevelt Av and 5 Av-53 St

    • All service is local-only in Queens

  • L - No service between Lorimer St and Broadway Junction

  • N - No service between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square

Full service change map here.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

  • “In the middle of the 1930s, roughly a quarter of the [Moscow’s] budget was spent on Metro construction needs.”

  • In Boston:

    Maria Cramer@GlobeMCramer

    Awful scene on the orange line. A woman’s leg got stuck in the gap between the train and the platform. It was twisted and bloody. Skin came off. She’s in agony and weeping. Just as upsetting she begged no one call an ambulance. “It’s $3000,” she wailed. “I can’t afford that.”

    June 29, 2018

  • In DC, Metro gave customers permission to drink water.

  • Miami has a $300 million plan for modern buses in South Dade, but now they’re gonna have to fight about it for a while.

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

“My distinguished subway rider of the week is the man wearing black leggings and a black tank top walking between cars on the Q train with one of those rain sticks, smiling beatifically and shaking the stick like he was blessing every car. I didn't make eye contact and wouldn't have done so for any less than $20, but I appreciated his work.”

Dog in a Bag

Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.


This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon, transit reporter for the Village Voice.

If you’re a new or prospective subscriber, head over to the Subway Knowledge Base page for an introduction to the state of the subway and peruse the archive here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with others. It’s the best way you can say thanks.

As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.