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Join us at CTA board meeting Thursday as we testify about wireless alerts

My brother Dan and I will be sharing information about our CTA wireless alert system with the CTA board at their next meeting, 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, in the second floor board room, 567 W. Lake Street. (Take the Green Line from to Clinton. Building is new one at the corner of Clinton and Lake).

We'll explain what we are doing and invite them to join in -- it could be a pilot test project for when the CTA gets its own alerts system up and running. Best thing is it won't cost them a penny -- other than using existing CTA staff to send alerts.

If you can sneak out of work or whatever, come support us! The public testimony portion of the meeting starts promptly at 10 a.m.

Comments

I hate to be anal about this....but Thursday is the 18th. You scared me cause I thought I was putting the wrong date on things at work! Good luck and remember to tell them about the Red Line havoc a few weeks back.

Not anal at all, cmama, I was going to post the same thing. I'm hoping I can escape - it would have been easier for me had the meeting been today!

Thanks to Jenn and cmama for noticing I had the wrong date in my original post. I fixed it! The meeting is in fact tomorrow, Thursday, Aug. 18.

Be careful about just handing-over the alert system to them.

Of course they should be doing it themselves, and you can show them just how easy and effective it can be. But if you hand it over to them, they could take out the ability for everyone to post alerts.

While it might be nice to have centralized control of the alerts to screen-out spam, the "okay" messages, and other stuff that really doesn't need to go out to the masses, giving that control to CTA would effectively kill the system. Only what they want to share would go out.

There ought to be an official CTA alert system. But there is also good reason why there should be an independent system, too. Outright handing over this alert system to the CTA would be the same as letting them provide webhosting for this site. Eventually they'll take editorial control, and the information will be as lacking as what comes over the loudspeakers.

Sorry if I sound like a conspiracy nut. I'm glad that they want to hear about the system. I just don't want to see it become nothing more than another official line of (lack of) communication.

Warren, I absolutely agree with you. An independent system, not under the control of the CTA is highly desirable. No BS, no hiding of problems, and probably more efficient and timely, too.

If the CTA is interested in the technology, Kevin and Dan should license their system to the CTA for a substantial fee. Don't give it away for free and a handshake from Kruesi (ick!)

Here's my opinion. Just SHOW them, don't GIVE it to them. Show them how easy it is and let them take the next step. An independent system should be maintained simply because, as we all know, anything the CTA touches turns to dust.

Gee, 10 a.m. on a Thursday. How nice of the CTA to make its Board meetings so convenient. It's not like the public has any stake in any of the decisions that they make.

And don't get me started on the CTA's "Citizens Advisory Board."

I see now how the spammers have compromised the system -- you can sign up for the group and then send a message to each individual from the upoc website. So any commercial spam program can join the list and have at it to send spam to each of us. is there a way to fix this?

I'm sure there must be ways to filter based on content. Between that and barring guests/members who post spam, that should at least keep it under control.

I don't always mind spam that much. I just hope that guy from Nigeria gets his money. We're all very concerned.

Hi everyone; a couple things:

* There's no way we could hand over the system to the CTA, even if we wanted to (& we don't)-- we don't own it!
* We didn't create any of this technology at all-- all I did was make a group over at a free website, www.upoc.com
* The main thing I'm personally interested in is growing this group to provide more & more accurate / useful info
* Having more people who have good info (that can mean people listening to the CTA channel on shortwave, CTA employees, CTA leadership, keen observers, etc.) contribute is the way to do that* The main thing about tomorrow is to ask CTA types to participate and to offer to share ideas on how to make anything they're working on work better for everyone
* As to the spam, I think we have an amazingly small spam rate. Think about it-- 356 people currently have the ability to send an unsolicited message to 355 cell phones. We've gotten zero spam (i.e. non-CTA related messages) and a minimum of non-useful info (all the "OKs" and tests, mainly). Pretty good record
* Last thing: remember that the power is the network. The more people who join, the more who contribute, the more chances we have of getting the good info we crave. This is a peer network, not a top-down network

So how did the meeting go? I really wanted to attend, but couldn't get out of work.

Looks like the meeting went good. From the CTA press release:

8/18/05
Chicago Transit Authority customers will soon be able to subscribe to CTA service alerts delivered electronically via e-mail. Today the Chicago Transit Board approved a contract for the purchase and implementation of an electronics subscription service that will automatically e-mail to cell phones and other wireless devices customized service alerts directly to customers.

“This service will greatly enhance the CTA’s ability to keep our customers informed,” said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. “One of the most important things CTA can do is to provide customers with timely and accurate information about our service. Providing service information via e-mail to mobile devices will help improve our customers’ ability to plan their trips on CTA.”

This e-mail subscription program has been successfully implemented by 38 government agencies across the United States. The CTA expects to launch the e-mail alert program by early next year.

“Our goal is to provide uninterrupted service to our customers, but they understand that on occasion there may be an unexpected service delay and all they want is to know about it when it happens so they can plan accordingly,” said CTA President Frank Kruesi. “For customers who do not have immediate access to traffic reports or the CTA’s web site before they head out to catch their bus or train, this service will be invaluable.”

Once in place, customers will be able to visit the CTA web site at www.transitchicago.com and set up their own customized e-mail alerts based on their specific service interest.

A three-year, $88,874 contract with GovDocs, Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota was approved to implement and maintain the e-mail subscription service.

Today the CTA Tattler version of CTA Alerts imploded. A couple of people who had no clue what they were signing up to responded to the group that they wanted to be removed. Out of the 7 or so messages I received on the train only two were actually about service.

If the CTA wants to use this type of system going forward, they need to lock it down so that only they can post messages.


There's an interesting by-product of the CTA alerts. Soon, after enough people sign up, trains around the city will be ringing with a cacophany of ringtones whenever there is a delay. Are we (those who are alerted and those who are not) ready to deal with that not so welcome addition to our commute?

Today on the Purple Line, it was just me and one other person, yet I'm sure it was quite annoying for everyone else in the car to hear a text message coming in every time an alert was sent. Sure, we can all set our ringers to vibrate, but really, can we get all 350 and counting people to do that? I doubt it.

First off, I want to say it's really great that Daniel has taken the inititive to set-up the alert system. I don't want anything I say to take away from this effort.

But let me describe what I think the ultimate scenerio would be.

First, the CTA needs to go forward with their effort, and there should always be a push internally to improve communication, especially with the public.

I also believe that a pure pear system should exist, although there's a limit to how pure. Someone has to have the final word on who gets banned.

But the most useful situation of all would be to have a centralized system getting information from as many sources as possible, and then reporting that information through various channels depending on the urgency.

Volunteers would take turns being the "control center". They'd have scanners listening to CTA channels. They would monitor available webcams, and even listen to traffic reports. They'd also get reports from the field from anyone riding that cares to report something.

They would then combine the pieces of information to get a picture of what's happening, and how serious it is. Ordinarily things could be reported on a web site that would be cell phone friendly. But if there is a big problem, they could send out live text messages to subscribers.

The keys would be the volunteers would not be employed by the CTA or any agency with a vested interest in spinning information. They would have access to as much information as possible. And they would have the skills to make impartial judgements on the importance of any information.

What I'm picturing is that typically there would be an average of fewer than one top-priority message a day, and a dozen - or maybe two dozen - lower-priority messages.

Of course this would take a very big investment of time by some people, and it would need to be something they'd be willing to do for a very long time. If the hurdle of finding people willing to invest that much time and effort could be overcome, I think such a system could become very useful.

Oh... BTW, I don't have that kind of time to invest, so don't ask me to back-up my idea with work. It's an idea. That's it.

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If you signed up for the unofficial CTA alert system, chances are you've encountered some frustrations. Earlier this week, Kevin O'Neil posted a few etiquette suggestions, but that hasn't stopped people from sending insipid texts like "OK." The beauty ... [Read More]

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