Probably the best thing to come out of the launch of a new Web site for the Chicago Transit Authority is an RSS feed for every train line and bus line in the system. It's a veritable orgy of orange icons — you can subscribe to all sorts of breakdowns:
- All Alerts, which includes planned and unplanned service items
- All News, which is basically press releases and information on board meetings, performance metrics, and other public relations
- All Elevator Service Alerts, which gives you some pretty important info you might need to know like "the elevator to Washington/ Wells is out of service". The CTA says they will continue to maintain the whiteboards inside the stations (recently upgraded) that also tell the current status of elevators
- If you're interested in all trains or all buses, they've got you covered
- If all you care about in your entire RSS life is the current status of the #26 South Shore Express bus, they've got a feed for you
This is a really big step forward for the CTA. They tell me that they have also changed their operations considerably to support this service. They now have six full-time External Customer Communication Coordinators who work inside the CTA Control Center. Each of these statuses are updated manually by these people, who work alongside the Rail Controllers who are working to respond to any service outages or other issues in the system. These two functions — dealing with issues and communicating the current status of an issue to customers — used to be performed by the same person at the same time.
Now that they have the technical and operational infrastructure to support these feeds, the only thing I'd like to see is more. More information about each bus and train. Certainly Facebook and Twitter have made a certain subset of the population deeply accustomed to being updated about the most inane things. I'd certainly be open to being updated about every time a bus that I'm interested in gets into an accident, contains a passenger who is shot and killed, has one of its bus stops moved due to a scaffolding permit issued by the city, and so on. Hell, I'd even be interested in knowing that my bus got some gum cleaned off a seat.