Major upgrade for onTime railroad-scheduling apps

Keeping tracks: Railroad scheduling has come a long way, thanks in part to software firm Mobileware.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

It’s all come together, literally, at Mobileware Inc., the Stony Brook-based app-maker aiming to keep the nation’s big-city commuters on or close to schedule.

Mobileware, spun out of 2008 software startup FYI Mobileware Inc., has launched onTime Commute, a new iOS application that unifies the software maker’s previous catalogue of onTime apps – each offering customizable scheduling information for a different major commuter railroad – and mixes in a host of new bells and whistles.

onTime, on phone: A modern perspective.

Those earlier versions – covering the Long Island Rail Road, the Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit and Chicago’s Meta railway – were already fan favorites, according to millions of downloads and thousands of favorable user reviews posted in the Apple Store. Combining them into a single program, noted Mobileware CEO Yun Zhang, was a nod to a large percentage of those riders, who use the app regularly to track the tracks of more than one railroad.

“We have many users who travel from New Jersey to Long Island or to Metro North,” Zhang told Innovate LI. “So the main reason is for convenience.”

The company’s convenience was also a consideration. With 14 railroads already on board – from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to Philadelphia’s SEPTA to Florida’s TriRail to San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit – Mobileware already is considering new ones to add, including potential international expansions.

And that, Zhang noted, means lots of technology – including duplicate codes and functionality – to maintain.

“If you continue with a separate app for each city, that’s a lot of maintenance,” the entrepreneur said. “We are actually planning to release a lot more, and outside the United States as well, so this made a lot of sense.

“Also, our technology is built to easily scale up.”

Combining all those disparate railroads into a single program is not onTime Commute’s only upgrade. Among other improvements, the new app features better control settings for alert notifications: Instead of notifying a user’s iPhone or iPad every time there’s a delay on a selected railroad, the new app can be customized to only alert users at certain times – say, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays.

Yun Zhang: And then there was one.

“So, if delays occur when they’re not commuting, they won’t receive [the notifications],” Zhang said. “That’s a major enhancement.”

The new app also boasts a host of commuter-friendly tools, including clear schedule updates along selected routes, station-by-station countdowns to the next arrival, automatic tracking of the number and duration of stops for each trip, real-time delay and outage notifications, customized alarms and local weather conditions.

Mobileware has further functionality in the pipeline, though Zhang is keeping mum for now, noting only that he and his programmers plan to add new onTime Commute railroads and tools “later this year.”

“The major plan was to consolidate all the users first,” the CEO said. “Then we will begin to offer additional value-added services.”

Also coming soon, Zhang hopes, are some additional revenue streams. Currently, the free-to-download app monetizes through banner advertising only, but Zhang and Co. are considering several potential verticals – including partnerships with bars restaurants and other businesses interested in offering discounts exclusively to onTime Commute users.

The new-and-improved onTime Commute is not the only recent reboot to come from the FYI Mobileware camp. In December, the parent company relaunched its flagship personal-finance program iXpenseIt, upgrading one of the most popular – and, literally, one of the first – mobile apps ever created for iOS devices.

By combining its many onTime apps into one universal application, Mobileware hopes to gain similar traction – and someday soon may even add the mass-transit crowd to its growing list of happy users, according to its CEO.

“For now, our main focus is on commuter rails, but afterward we’ll be looking at mass transit, like subways,” Zhang said. “We’re really just trying to combine everything under one brand.

“Our goal is simple: To make it easier to commute anywhere, from Point A to Point B.”


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