Financial Details For The MTA Text Alert System

As I wrote about earlier, the MTA will soon be implementing a text alert system in the case of emergency service disruptions. Sewall Chan of the New York Times has a report which discusses the financial details of the new system. Here is his report:

When torrential rains shut down nearly the entire subway system on Aug. 8, 2007, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was unable to provide quick information to riders. Its Web site, with its confusing layout, crashed. And other means of delivering information like cellphone alerts, downloadable maps and electronic message boards were not available.

Chastened by the criticism, the M.T.A. commissioned a study of what went wrong and proposed a bunch of fixes, including developing a system of customized e-mail and text message alerts for each subway line so riders could be informed about problems.

That notification service will be unveiled in September. The authority has signed a $600,000 contract — $120,000 a year for five years — with the MIS Sciences Corporation, an Internet services company, to run a text-messaging service that will provide real-time alerts about subway, bus and train disruptions to millions of commuters. (The Daily News reported some details of the new text-messaging system on Sunday.)

Under the contract, the company must be able to send out at least one million messages in five minutes, far more than what the M.T.A. can do on its own. MIS Sciences provides a similar service to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The transportation authority currently sends out regular e-mails — which can also be sent to cellphones — to commuters about track work and other planned service disruptions. About 60,000 New York City Transit customers, 40,000 Long Island Rail Road customers and 26,000 Metro-North Railroad customers have signed up for those advisories, according to Christopher P. Boylan, the authority’s deputy executive director for corporate and community affairs.

But the “Big Kahuna,” Mr. Boylan said in a telephone interview, is the new system of real-time text alerts. Customers will be able to select information for specific subway, bus or railroad lines. “You’re going to self-select what you want, how much you want and when you want it,” Mr. Boylan said.

In addition, M.T.A. Bridges and Tunnels (also known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority), Long Island Bus and the M.T.A. Bus Company, which do not currently offer any form of e-mail notices, will be part of the new text-alert system, he said.

During major service disruptions, Mr. Boylan explained, vast numbers of messages must be sent simultaneously from many nodes. The M.T.A.’s system, however, required that e-mail alerts be sent sequentially, “so it took maybe an hour to get a message out to 40,000 riders,” he said.

(Mr. Boylan acknowledged that it would impossible for riders deep inside subway tunnels to get text alerts immediately, but said the messages would aid riders deciding whether to board the subway and riders entering or waiting inside stations.)

The transportation authority is not the only public entity moving to improve its text-messaging capabilities. In December, the New York City Office of Emergency Management announced a new text-messaging program, inviting readers in certain neighborhoods to sign up for emergency alerts.

My thoughts on the system are in the entry I linked to in the beginning of this thread. I noticed the people responding to Sewall’s article are not a fan of the system that will be debuting in September. Check out their responses by clicking here.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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