The Cinderella Dilemma: Connecticut, Westchester, and Long Island

I recently wrote about how the Cinderella Dilemma has improved for New Jersey residents visiting New York City.  NJ Transit’s Departure Vision service for the mobile web has made life a lot easier for Garden State residents.  One of my readers (Bill Zack) sent me a message noting that New Jersey only accounts for about half of NYC’s suburbs.  The reader asked, "What about the rest of us?!”


GrandCentralStationWell, I suppose my Cinderella posts were a bit selfish.  From a Jersey perspective, it’s very easy to forget that there’s a whole other world north and east of New York City! (Must be all those bodies of water in between.)  Folks from Connecticut, Westchester, and Long Island all face the same Cinderella Dilemma when they visit the city too. 

That is, after rush hour, trains run less frequently.  If you’re out for a night in the city and you don’t have the train schedule memorized, you spend your whole night worrying whether to ditch your company to catch a train, or end up stuck for an hour or more in the train station, surrounded by all types of interesting creatures.

New York City’s suburbs are served by three major commuter railroads: NJ Transit, Metro-North, and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR).  The latter two are both operated by the New York’s MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority).  LIRR trains depart from the same Penn Station as NJ Transit trains.  Metro-North trains all depart from the other major (and more famous) train station in New York City: Grand Central Station.

Note: I don’t have much empathy for Metro-North commuters as Grand Central Station is a LOT nicer place to be “stranded” in than Penn Station.

MetroNorthTrainTimeSo how can LIRR and Metro-North riders avoid the Cinderella Dilemma?  The MTA has recently implemented “Train Time” on their mobile web site. “Train Time” is essentially the same service as Departure Vision from NJ Transit.  You can pick a station from the list on the MTA’s website, and you get a view of the next twelve trains departing from that station.

On Windows Phone, you can pin a tile for any station’s “Train Time” to your Home screen just like you can with NJ Transit’s Departure Vision.  This works great, and is a quick and easy way to answer the question, “When is the next train?” with a single touch & glance.

MNRTrainTimeTileSome caveats…

The MTA hasn’t yet implemented “Train Time” for their entire commuter rail system.  Metro-North folks are in luck as it works for most of the system (except for stations on the Danbury & Waterbury branches in Connecticut).  However, it’s only implemented on one branch of the LIRR, the Port Washington line. 

In fact, the Port Washington line implementation is currently in beta (as of 12/19/2011). It is only linked from the MTA’s mobile site, not their regular site. So, for now, most Long Islanders still have to tempt fate with the mice at Penn Station.

Train Time is not as “Metro-like” in terms of UI like NJ Transit’s Departure Vision but, it’s functionality is the same.  Load it up, pin it to your Windows Phone, and you’re good to go!

MTAAppQuestMTA Apps

metro-northI like mobile websites like NJ Transit’s and the MTA’s because they work on virtually any mobile device out there.  However, the MTA also makes most of their data available for developers to build mobile apps. 

The MTA is even encouraging folks to build mobile apps via a contest called MTA AppQuest!  If you browse the MTA website, they provide a list of apps that have been developed against their data.

Most of these apps are available for either iOS or Android and are focused on the NYC Subway system. NYC Travel is available for Windows Phone.  Like most other mobile apps, NYC Travel is focused on the subway system, providing service updates, etc.  It can display a static map of the Metro-North and LIRR systems, but does not have the ability to view scheduling information currently.  NYC Travel was developed by Chevon Christie and Fernando Garza.

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the MTA apps on iOS or Android (I do intend to…. perhaps for a future post), but I still think that for information like this, a mobile website like NJ Transit or the MTA’s is the way to go!

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