Tracking transit: Three apps for Android reviewed


Even though the train platform heaters have started working (since November 1) the cold might still prevent you from wanting to wait there for any longer than you need to. These transit apps for Android can help you bide your time. Photo by Chicago Transit Authority.

Ed. note – This guest post was contributed by Nick Puczkowskyj, one of the producers of this year’s Cycle Messenger World Championship, and a daily Chicago Transit Authority rider. Nick offered to test transit apps for Android after seeing our review of iOS transit apps proceeding the iOS 6-Apple Maps debacle. 

For the commuter who needs to be in the know at all times, there are several apps available for Android phones. I went about testing three popular Chicago transit apps on my Samsung Galaxy S II. The apps were put through all of the same hurdles for my commute, which involves both bus and rail. Each app was used entirely for one day and then all three were used at once for one day. Every app was able to assist me with every part of my commute. However, some had stronger attributes than others.

Continue reading Tracking transit: Three apps for Android reviewed

Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting


Are you ready to start reporting street problems using your smartphone? Install one of the apps listed below. 

The City of Chicago launched its public Open 311 application interface in October allowing residents to quickly make a report, online or with a smartphone, bypassing the lengthy process of calling. App developers are now able to build programs that interact with the City of Chicago’s 311 database, created in 1997, via the Open 311 application interface to provide a faster and richer user experience. While such a process could have been established years ago, we’re happy to have it in Chicago now.

Currently only 14 service request types are available (see list below), which were said to be among the most commonly requested services. The application interface (known to programmers as “API”) was developed in part by Code for America fellows who researched the 311 implementation here and interviewed myriad users (alderman, city employees, operators, neighbors) in February and were coding all the way up until the last week of October. The undertaking has led to a great outcome, shaking up the tedious process of asking for a city service.

Rob Brackett, one of the four Code for America fellows to work on this project in Chicago, came to a recent Hack Night event at 1871, a tech hub at the Merchandise Mart, to showcase the city’s and fellows’ progress (slideshow). Two city staffers – Kevin Hauswirth (social media director in the Mayor’s Office) and Ryan Briones (IT director at the Department of Innovation and Technology, DoIT) – attended to join the discussion with civic coders and designers about the future of 311 and the Open 311 API. We – the public, really – were invited to contribute our own code updates for the city’s Open 311 website on the social coding website called GitHub.


My service request as submitted to the city’s new 311 website (it currently accepts 14 service types).  Continue reading Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting

The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices


I have 9 transit apps installed, including 1 for Portland, Oregon. Seven are reviewed here.

If you upgraded your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad this week, you’ll find yourself without transit directions in the built-in Maps application. Wednesday was the first day you could download and install the latest version of iOS 6, your iDevice’s operating system. The Maps app was previously powered by all things Google but in iOS 6 the app is powered by Apple-owned technologies and partner companies’ data. It’s been known for months that the new Maps app wouldn’t come with built-in transit directions. (However, Apple Maps does scan your phone for compatible transit apps and links you to them, or helps you find them in the App Store.)

Don’t fret, though, as there are several apps for free and purchase that take over transit directions duty. I’ll review six apps, some of which I downloaded after I started writing this post. Visit the CTA’s Transit Apps webpage for more apps.

See all the screenshots created for this post.

Buster (CTA)

Download for $1.99. Arrival times, no trip planning.

Buster has four features: a bus route list (from which you can find a specific stop), find bus stops near where you’re currently standing, favorite bus stops, and an interface to the CTA mobile Train Tracker website. The first three are quite standard among Chicago transit apps, but each has a unique way of helping you find “your” stops and bookmarking them. Continue reading The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices

Street issues, 311, and apps: better communication with Open311 – part 2


A screenshot of the Spothole homepage. 

In part 1 of Street issues, 311, and apps: tying them all together I talked to Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer, John Tolva, who painted the picture of how we can interact with 311 and city services in the near future. Open311, among other things, is a platform to enable a connection between apps (web- and smartphone-based) and the service request system.

For part 2, I talked to Stefan Draht, a designer and programmer who created Spothole (with design contributions from Brett Schnacky). The app is ready for your vote in the Apps 4 Metro Chicago contest. It’s an intuitive and interactive way to report potholes in Chicago. I met Draht at Moving Design during the summer, for which he originally created the app; it’s now in version 2.0. Continue reading Street issues, 311, and apps: better communication with Open311 – part 2

Street issues, 311, and apps: tying them all together – part 1


Imagine photographing with your smartphone this metal plate that’s supposed to cover the sewer at Bloomingdale Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue and immediately uploading it to the City’s 311 system for fixing. That’s the power of Open311. (It’s finally being repaired.) 

311 is a phone number and a service request management system that the City of Chicago operates to give information to citizens (about services the city provides) and collect information from them (about situations that need fixing).

311 was implemented in 1999. In 2011, 12 years later, it’s not yet possible to make a request online and receive a tracking number (called an SR number for “service request”). I know there are apps and platforms in other cities that allow for a more modern way to collect and submit requests for service. This year I read that Code for America would hire young programmers to come to Chicago and “convert” the old 311 to what’s called Open311. Continue reading Street issues, 311, and apps: tying them all together – part 1

Vote on the best apps for metro Chicago


The Grand Challenge of the Apps for Metro Chicago Contest starts today. Everyone will have the opportunity to vote for the best apps that take Chicagoland data and make it more useful, interesting, or engaging. Apps can be for the web, or specific smartphone operating systems. Winners get recognition and cash prizes.

I’ve re-submitted the Bikes on Metra app my friend and I worked on. We weren’t finalists in the first round, about transportation, and I didn’t make any changes in the re-submission because I’m working on so many projects (book club being the latest).

So browse the gallery and leave your votes at 4 PM. Voting ends Monday, December 12, at 4 PM. I hope things go better this time around than in the first round, after the rules changed and the first batch of votes were invalidated. Continue reading Vote on the best apps for metro Chicago