Thank you NJ Transit! Thank you NJ Transit! Thank you NJ Transit!
Can I say it again?! Thank YOU NJ Transit!!!
You may be wondering why I am lavishing so much praise upon the transit agency that many Jersey residents have a love/hate relationship with. Let me explain...
I think most of my fellow Jerseyans have been down this road before. It happens all the time. You're in Manhattan either working late, catching happy hour with your friends, or just out for a night on the town. In any case, you know that when it's time to leave, there's always that train to catch. And once it's past 7pm (the end of rush-hour when trains stop running every 10-15 minutes), knowing when that train is going to leave is like some sort of cruel comical mystery.
Unless you have memorized the schedule, odds are, you're going to part ways with your friends or co-workers, head to Penn Station, and find yourself having just missed the previous train by seconds. Ahead of you lies an hour or more of purgatory, waiting in Penn Station, watching the overhead schedule board's clock tick away for what seems like forever.
Worse yet, if it was a night out on the town you were having, you might have missed the last train, period! Now your purgatory includes sitting on a cold bench with all of the fun and interesting characters who make Penn Station their home at night and ensuring no one steals your laptop/cell-phone/MP3 player/shirt off your back while you sleep with one eye open. Just the thought of that is enough to ruin anyone's night out!
All of this agita could be avoided if only there was a way to know when the next train is leaving. Think about it, if you knew the next train was an hour out, you could have another round at the pub. Maybe even grab that lusty hot dog you were craving at Gray's Papaya! If only you knew. But after 7pm... you don't! It's like Cinderella at the ball... You know midnight is approaching, yet you don't have a watch. So it hangs over you like a cloud the whole time, killing your enjoyment in whatever it is you're in the city late to do.
When I first got one of these new fangled SmartPhones three years ago, I couldn't wait to use it for the "killer" mobile scenario. You guessed it... to look down, and within a few clicks, find out when the next train is leaving! Never again would I have to tempt fate with the mystery of whether I'd be stranded in Penn Station with a pumpkin, a bunch of mice, and a glass slipper!
Oh... but was I so disappointed. The mobile web browser on my phone decimated the NJ Transit website, rendering it, for all intents and purposes, unusable. My hopes had been dashed.
Fast forward three years to this week... While up at the AJAX Experience conference in Boston, I had a chance encounter with a gentleman from Nokia who was demonstrating his company's upcoming mobile web browser. The browser (which I assume was in beta) had the ability to render full, non-mobile websites in a way that made them usable from the device's small screen. So, I asked the gentlemen to pull up the NJ Transit website. If the browser could do a good job with that site, than hats off to Nokia! Low and behold, the site came up. It looked better than how I remembered it looking on my Treo 700w, but it still wasn't usable. Things weren't lining up right, making it difficult to navigate the links.
Then, for grins and giggles, I pulled out my Treo to show how bad my NJ Transit web experience is with the Nokia guy. To my amazement, I got a completely different site on my Treo's browser! NJ Transit re-directed me to a new site designed for mobile phones!
"SWEET!!!!", I yelled out loud!
Just TWO clicks... only TWO CLICKS, and I was looking at the entire schedule from Penn Station to my stop! How cool was this! Exactly what I've been waiting for for the past three years!
Even cooler is that when you get to the train schedule screen, there are three drop down boxes: One to choose day of the week, one for the departure station, and one for the destination. The departing station is defaulted to Penn Station (I guess they know where most folks are leaving from!) and since my station stop starts with an "A", it just happens to be the first/default choice in the alphabetized destination drop down list! That saves even more clicks for me!
Ironically, the Nokia browser wasn't getting redirected, but that's probably a matter of the NJ Transit site not detecting the browser type properly... something that I doubt would difficult for them to fix in the future.
Wednesday night, on my way home from Boston, I got to put this new killer app to use. I took Amtrak's Acela train down to NYC from Boston. The plan was to change trains at Penn Station to the NJ Transit train which would bring me to my home town. As the Acela was about to enter the tunnel approaching Manhattan from Queens, I pulled up the schedule on my Treo. Next train leaving in 45 minutes. "Great!" I thought. "Plenty of time for a pint of beer!"
As I sat there in the pub having a brew, I was completely relaxed. For I knew that when the brew was through, my carriage awaited!
For more info on the new mobile features from NJ Transit.com, click here.
Starting next week, if you're running Vista on your laptop, you can get free wi-fi access at any T-Mobile