Like a ‘Waze for the T’ MBTA Ninja lets Bostonians crowdsource commuting woes

MBTA Ninja is a web app that hopes to let commuters provide a real-time view of trouble on their commute. (Image: David Lago)
MBTA Ninja is a web app that hopes to let commuters provide a real-time view of trouble on their commute. (Image: David Lago)

Topics

Boston MBTA Waze

With several weeks still left of winter, Boston commuters are bracing for more bad weather, and with that, the inevitable delays on the beleaguered T. A new Web app being billed as the “Waze for the T” aims to warn T riders of delays or service alerts by crowdsourcing updates along the lines in real time.

Like the Waze driving app owned by Google,”MBTA Ninja” allows commuters to report problems — a stopped train, full subway cars, extended delays — and allows other commuters to confirm the incident, or report that it’s been resolved. It was built nearly overnight by a team this past weekend at the CodeAcrossBoston hackathon hosted by the Code for Boston and the state. The service hopes to give Bostonians a bird’s-eye view of their commute before they hop on.

This web app is only active on the Red Line, but promises to be useful for them all. (Image: David Lago)

This web app is only active on the Red Line, but promises to be useful for them all. (Image: David Lago)

The Red Line is the only active route on the app so far, which was released Monday.

[Update: The Orange and Green line routes have been added to the app as of Monday night.]

But just on its first day, 500 people visited the websites on their phones and made 60 reports, flagging packed trains, overcrowded platforms, and delays, said David Lago, a developer at Panorama Education, and a member of the team who created the app.

To help each other out when the storms caused delays on the Red Line these last few weeks, Lago and his colleagues Geoffrey Litt and Radhika Malik created a text-message group to alert each other about the real-time status of the commute. The app was just an extension of that idea, Lago said.

Since it was launched, the group has been flooded with requests from Twitter and from their friends, Lago said, and almost all of them are: ‘Hey! Put some more lines! I want to see my bus there!”

The MBTA Ninja team plan to tap into Boston’s deep developer resources for some support expanding the app. Lago said they hope to present it at the weekly meet-up hosted by Code for Boston.

Eventually, the group hopes to integrate service updates announced by the MBTA and channeled by its API, and allow subway riders to chime in with feedback.

For example, Lago said, “If the MBTA says officially, ‘There are minor delays,’ people can say, ‘No, it’s not minor. I’ve been waiting 20 minutes!”

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
Follow Nidhi on Twitter - Facebook