Life for New York City subway riders is about to become much easier. A newly released mobile application, Seetra.in, can show the location of subway cars in real time. Straphangers accessing Seetra.in via their mobile device will be able to instantly tell if they have enough time to grab a cup of coffee before they duck into the station--or if there are any service delays. Seetra.in, written entirely in HTML5, is currently in non-functioning beta; a full version will be released later this year when real-time train information is made available to developers.
Seetra.in  was released in demo form this past weekend as part of PDF: Applied , a programming challenge at the Personal Democracy Forum--a huge annual conference of politics, tech, and public policy wonks. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) ongoing project to make transportation data publicly available  played a huge part in the project. Real-time datasets for New York's subway lines will be released by the end of the year. The device-agnostic app, which is accessible via both Android and Apple products, was developed by Sam Richard, Chris Whong, Jeremy Baron, and Graham Brooks. Seetra.in was developed over the course of the hackathon weekend.
The MTA deliberately avoids releasing “official” smartphone apps in favor of publicly releasing data and letting third-party developers take up the slack. While the transit agency officially talks of empowering independent developers, neglecting official apps has let them significantly cut their budget. The flipside of that is that obtaining MTA information by phone is confusing and difficult; the MTA homepage is notoriously difficult to access by mobile devices and a panopoly of over 50 smartphone apps makes finding current information difficult. A recent iPhone release of a Weekender app  for weekend schedule changes is the first official MTA smartphone app ever.
For now, Seetra.in is only useful on the way to the train, in elevated stations, or in the handful of subway stations with cellular service. Full cellular coverage--something already found in Boston, San Francisco, and many international subways--is still being held up in New York due to funding issues at the MTA.
[Image: Flickr user Adam Fagen ]
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that the seetra.in app was already functional for the 1/2/3 lines and misidentified the Metropolitan Transportation Agency as "Metropolitan Transit Agency." Fast Company regrets the error.