Lhota unveils a subway app that will ‘reduce anxiety’

Lhota in Grand Central Terminal. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Today, outgoing M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota unveiled a new technology designed to help New Yorkers navigate the subway system with less anxiety.

(No, the press conference was not intended to address yesterday's deadly pushing incident, which was the second such murder this month. The only known way of stopping that from happening would be to install platform screen doors, which the M.T.A. has dismissed as impractical.)

He was there to talk about punctuality, specifically a new app called M.T.A. Subway Time, which allows riders of the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 lines and the 42nd Street shuttle to glance at their iPhones and iPads (and desktop computers, for what it's worth) to find out when the next train will arrive.

Lhota said the app will be available for all subway lines within the next three years.

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"We're not only improving service," he said. "We're doing something that rarely ever happens in New York: we're reducing anxiety, and anything that reduces anxiety in New York is a really good thing."

Gene Russianoff, a straphanger advocate with NYPIRG, called the innovation "fantastic."

"You're at a restaurant late at night," Russianoff said, by way of theoretical example. "You can hail a yellow cab and spend $20 to get home or you can look at your smartphone and see the train is five minutes away and plan accordingly."

Today's appearance by Lhota at the information kiosk in Grand Central Terminal will be his last as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (assuming no catastrophe befalls the New York City transit system between now and Monday evening).

He's leaving the M.T.A. because he's considering running for mayor, and the law does not allow him to run a public authority and run for office at the same time.

"I'm looking forward to seeing more and more apps like this going forward into the future, because as you all know, starting next week, I'm just gonna be another regular customer on the subway system again," said Lhota.

Related, one technological innovation that will not be coming anytime soon: smartcards allowing contactless fare payment.

"I don't think smartcards will happen within the next year," Lhota said.