Cities are beginning to release live data from their public transit systems. First, developers made scheduling apps. Now, as more cities come online, the data are being used ever more creatively. Here, a sampling of benefits (some apps listed work in multiple cities).
In Portland, Oregon, You Can...
The iNap app will wake snoozing commuters as their stop approaches.
The city doesn't provide live GPS tracking of its trains and buses, but the app ArrivalTracker uses an algorithm and city API data to predict arrival times fairly well.
//Portland's Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District was one of the first to release actionable data, way back in 2008.
In Boston, You Can...
OpenMBTA searches Twitter to relay what problems riders are reporting.
Hear it straight.
How Fucked Is the T? bluntly sums up the state of each subway line like a native Bostonian would. Sample: If the Orange Line's average wait time is 5.5 minutes, the line "might be a little fucked."
//Massachusetts has more than 200 mobile startups, which have developed dozens of transit apps for navigating the finicky Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
In San Francisco, you can...
Through the app Nextime, you can plan connections from the San Francisco Municipal Railway and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit systems.
Leave a light footstep.
BayTripper crowdsources congestion updates and interactive maps of the region's many biking and walking routes.
//Transportation in the Bay Area has a fairly messy mix of transit systems, each with its own data./p>
In Chicago, you can...
Never get lost.
Not all public transit is direct. TransitGenie Chicago steers you through every step—from a bus or train, and exactly where to walk between stops.
Travel on time.
The web-based Mapnificent Chicago shows how far public transit can get you from any spot in a given amount of time.
//The Chicago Transit Authority has been slow to sync train-linked GPS devices with its data stream, so local app offerings are slim.
In New York City, you can...
Come and go efficiently.
Exit Strategy NYC lets subway riders fulfill the eternal Gotham need: leave and enter stations at the most convenient staircases.
//The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has released limited data, so app development is slow. But that may change. The MTA's App Quest contest will give a combined $15,000 in prizes to transit app developers. Winners are announced November 1.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.