I was invited by Tony Coppoletta, External Electronic Communications Manager at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), and of recent Streetsfilms fame, to test and provide feedback on the new Train Tracker (still in beta). Launched to the public on Saturday, January 8, 2011, I peeked at it in mid-December, 2010.
Tony first showed us the website version and how it had slick transitions between updates (every 30 seconds). As you might expect, the mobile version looked great on the iPhone and Droid smartphones. I was more concerned about how it would look on my Opera Mini web browser on my Samsung Slash from Virgin Mobile*. I tediously entered the URL (mobile site)Â on my T9 keyboard and selected a station on the Red Line.
I was excited that it loaded quickly and looked completely normal and like its full-web browser counterparts. That’s to be expected when you design using web standards. Kevin Forsyth discussed the design further:
…itâ€™s the layout of the site that really gets me going. It all feels so immediately familiar, because it closely adheres to CTAâ€™s current graphic design standards for the system as a whole. Station names are displayed in white Helvetica on a dark grey background. All the colors of the train lines are spot-on likenesses of their printed versions, not just web-standard blue, green, orange, etc.
The mobile version of the site is a clean, stripped-down version of the same, and fits nicely onto a first-generation iPhone screen. Itâ€™s so neatly arranged, in fact, that I doubt an actual iPhone app could improve on its appearance.
It doesn’t look perfect on my tinny screen though – some elements are pushed to the next line and the boxes don’t expand to include them, but the readability remains. I was extremely impressed and had very limited feedback – I think the CTA’s internal testing efforts gave the public a wonderful “first version” product that I thought could have been launched right then and there in mid-December.
I’ve only tested the predictions (or “estimator” as Kevin calls it) a few times and so far it’s been accurate. The CTA does expect to offer a Train Tracker API just like it offers for Bus Tracker. Have you tried Train Tracker yet? What do you think?
To use CTA Train Tracker on your web-enabled phone (should work in most browsers), go to http://m.transitchicago.com and select “Train Tracker” (first item in the list).
Select your route.
Then select your station.
And view 15 minutes of upcoming train times.
*I prepay for Virgin Mobile phone service (Sprint owns Virgin Mobile) at a cost of $27 (including tax) per month that gives me 300 voice minutes, and unlimited messaging and data/internet. I highly recommend it. Virgin offers Blackberry, Android, and other smartphones.