A Great Big City

MTA Closed the Doors on This Developer's LIRR App

Old Amtrak Departure Board, Penn Station, NYC, January 20, 2017. Inauguration Day
Old Amtrak Departure Board, Penn Station, NYC, January 20, 2017. Inauguration Day via Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue on Flickr

Alexander saw a problem, shared his insight, and the MTA knocked him down.

After seeing the flood of people that rush toward the train after track numbers are announced on the Penn Station big board, Alexander Kharlamov began to try and predict the track where his train would arrive. He noticed a pattern to the chaos and began testing out his theory by arriving early at the track number from the day before. Not only did he avoid the rush on the main Penn Station concourse, he was able to relax and take a seat on the correct train.

To share the info, Alexander put together a mobile app that would display the history of track numbers for each train, giving passengers the option to assume that, if a train has departed from the same track for the past ten days, it's also likely to depart from there today.

The app hit the market and the feedback from users was positive, but the MTA soon noticed and sent an email claiming that the data was only for official use, and shut down the track number reporting entirely.

I was not going to give up without a fight, so I embarked on campaign to plead my case to MTA. I reached out to different people with escalating levels of authority, asked to add the needed features to the new API, tried to convince them that people relied on my app, but it was all in vain. There was no way a large bureaucracy like the MTA would make an exception for me or anyone else, so I couldn’t get the data I needed from the official channels. They also stopped publishing the track number on the website — so going back to scraping was not an option either.

- Alexander Kharlamov

Read the technical details of building the app on Alexander's Medium post and see if you can spot any patterns in your daily city life that could lead to a new lifehack!

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