Although New York’s COVID-19 reopening plans are progressing, many New Yorkers are still wary of taking public transit during the pandemic. It is often difficult to maintain a safe social distance while using New York City’s transit options, a fact that has prevented many riders from fully embracing them again. To ease those fears, the MTA has updated two apps with tools to help New Yorkers plan safe travel. The Long Island Rail Road’s North American TrainTime app and the MYmta app now let users see real-time ridership data to know how many riders are on a given train or bus and if it is safe to board.

To facilitate the apps’ new features, the Long Island Railroad added ridership trackers to more than 90% of its train cars. These devices allow riders to use a seat tracking function on the TrainTime App that lets you see how many available seats are in each car at any given time. The update is meant to help customers more safely navigate their return to the Long Island Railroad during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing social distancing as ridership rises again. An additional new feature in the app allows customers to track the real-time location of their train, similar to how rides are tracked in apps like Uber. This empowers riders to more accurately and safely plan their trips. The update will automatically install for anyone who already has it downloaded on their device.

MTA bus ridership trackerImage of the tracking device now used on MTA buses. Photo courtesy of the MTA


LIRR ridership app screenshotScreenshot of the updated LIRR TrainTime App. Photo courtesy of the MTA.

“By providing customers with real-time capacity information and service updates, we’re providing the tools necessary for navigating some of the uncertainties of mass transit in this difficult moment,” said LIRR Chief Innovation Officer Will Fisher. “We look forward to rolling out additional features in the weeks and months to come and are eager to hear from our customers about how we can improve the app further.”

The MYmta app has a similar new function. Instead of LIRR trains, it applies to the MTA’s fleet of buses. The new capacity tracking feature allows customers to track the real-time number of passengers on arriving buses. Much like its application on the LIRR, the new tracking capabilities meant to maximize social distancing. Approximately 550,000 existing app users will be equipped with this new tracker tool.

“This pilot is a great start to providing a level of comfort to our customers who can see beforehand if they want to board a bus or wait for another based on the number of riders on board,” said Craig Cipriano, Senior Vice President of the MTA Department of Buses. “As we continue to navigate through this pandemic we know how important it is to provide the safest and most efficient service we can.”

MYmta app screenshot

Screenshot of the MYmta app’s ridership tracking feature. Photo courtesy of the MTA.

The updates are part of a long list of measures taken by the MTA since the pandemic reached New York earlier this year. Back in March, the MTA announced updated sanitation strategies which included cleaning frequently used surfaces across all MTA run services. The MTA historically shutdwon subway service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to allow for train cars and stations to be disinfected every 24 hours. The MTA also started using UV light to clean its trains, which, much like the PATH train’s new cleaning technique, is one of many seemingly futuristic strategies used to combat the virus.

Next, check out MTA Expands Program Using UV Light to Kill COVID-19 on NYC Subway Cars and The Treasures Inside LIRR’s Brand New Lost & Found in Penn Station