MTA launches train schedules by text

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Metro North introduced a new service: train schedules via text message. Larry Tung/Columbia Radio News

New York’s commuter train Metro North launched a new service today: train schedules via text message.

Richard Romano has been taking Metro North from his home in Poughkeepsie into Manhattan five days a week for the last 20 years.

So train schedules are pretty important to him. Until now, he’s been getting them online.

“I can only do that when I’m near my computer, which is typically the night before I leave for the day or the night before,” said Romano.

Now, he will be able to get that information anytime on his cell phone from a Long Island company named Coo Coo. It piloted the service on the Long Island Rail Road last April.

MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder says you start by texting to Coo Coo itself.

“That’s 266-266. You type in where you are and where you want to go. From Rye to Grand Central, ” said Walder. “And within an instant, you get a text message back that tells you what the next five trains are that are coming on the schedule.”

If you are not great with spelling or simply made a typo, not a problem.

Ryan Thompson, a co-founder of Coo Coo, says the system is usually smart enough to correct it.

“We accept abbreviations, we understand that texting inherently uses abbreviation, there’s typos, and the system learns what these idiosyncrasy are of the users and get smart, and we deliver the best information possible,” said Thompson.

That information is free of charge. Right now it doesn’t cost Metro North anything, either.

But Coo Coo is planning to introduce advertising in a few months.

There will be a small footer at the bottom of the text message.

Romano, the customer from Poughkeepsie, says he won’t mind.

“It’s totally reasonable to want to generate revenue from something that people find useful,” said Romano.

There’s no plan to make the service available for the New York subway system yet. MTA chief Walder says that’s because subway riders generally don’t rely on train schedules in the same way Metro North customers do.

But city bus commuters might be in luck. MTA has just launched a pilot program in Brooklyn: tracking bus locations on the B63 line.


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