@mbta_alerts is a Twitter account that gets updated with most of the latest information from the MBTA’s official Alerts RSS feed. This account isn’t maintained or watched by the MBTA, it was just made by some dude who was angry about delayed trains.
(purple box is normal frequency)
I’m Warning You:
@mbta_alerts is a very active account, currently tweeting about 0 times per day! You’re seeing virtually all alerts across the entire MBTA system.
Powered by Frustration
There are two principles that will ultimately result in the failure of this project:
- It was built out of frustration.
- The people using it are generally in highly-frustrating situations.
So, until such time that the negativity becomes overwhelming, I give you: @mbta_alerts.
How it Came to Be
I can easily remember the night when @mbta_alerts came to me.
I was standing in North Station about an hour before a Miley Cyrus concert at TD Garden. I stood there sweating and panting after running to catch my train — a train that turned out to be thirty minutes late. It seems that in large quantities, moms and daughters are the commuter rail version of a DDoS attack.
While standing there waiting, I did some research on the MBTA website. It turns out that there is an RSS feed buried deep in the bowels of a section I’ve never seen before. I immediately registered @mbta_alerts and went to work on my train ride home. About an hour later, it was ready for testing.
There was a quick private beta test, and things seemed to work well, so I announced it for all the world to see. And here we are today.
Recent @mbta_alerts Posts
- Route 1 experiencing 15-20 min delays due to traffic. 5/23/2013 12:41 PM #mbta
- Route 86 experiencing 15-20 min delays due to traffic. 5/23/2013 6:15 PM #mbta
How it Works
A server checks the MBTA Alerts RSS feed every minute. Comparing what it knows versus what it sees, it filters down to only new posts for tweeting.
Next, it loops through each new tweet, filtering out the ones I don’t care about (broken escalator and elevator notices).
Finally, once the filtering is done, it posts new alerts, one tweet per alert.
Response to the General Feedback
“ROAR, you didn’t post about [some delay] until after it happened!”
While there will be some delay between when it’s posted and when it’s tweeted (generally about two minutes), for the most part this is an MBTA problem. After watching for a bit, the trend is that they only post delays after they’ve happened and people are on their way again. (The exception to this rule is cancellations — obviously — and really long delays, like ones over an hour.)
If they posted it in a more timely manner, you’d see it about two minutes later.
“Wow, that sure is a lot of noise.”
I agree, I never thought that alerts would post as frequently as they do, and so this account isn’t for everyone. I’m working on adding some relevancy hash-tags, and a couple of other tweaks, but I’m not the only one that had this idea.
If you want, there are other options: @t_redline, @t_blueline, @t_greenline, @t_orangeline, or @t_silverline. Also, the MBTA has a text-message-alerts system that will save you from opening Twitter, and check out Sparkfish Creative’s awesome MassTransit app.
“You didn’t even post [the direction, the route number, etc.] in your tweet!”
Again, I’m just giving you what the MBTA puts out there (unless it’s escalators becoming stairs or elevator issues, then yeah, I didn’t post it). Also, there is a group of developers donating a lot of their time to improving this stuff as we speak.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, facts, mentions or questions. Drop me a line!