Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Caltrain bike car updates to your mobile device

Yes, you can receive information about Caltrain bike cars in real time on your phone or other mobile device. Here's the step-by-step guide to receiving Caltrain bike car information below the photo.

Mountain View Caltrain evening commute

Update: Ravi (who provides this community supported Caltrain update service) wrote his own "Getting Started" guide. His his better, I think. Mine is wordier. Both will get you there.

1. Sign up for Twitter.

2. After signing up and logging in to Twitter, visit the Devices page, fill in the details of your mobile device and follow the instructions to activate receiving "tweets" to your phone. Set "Device Updates" to "ON." Note you can also limit the times when you receive messages from Twitter.

3. While logged in to Twitter, visit the Twitter Bike Car page, click "Follow" and set "Device Updates" to "ON." After this you should start receiving bike car messages to your phone.

4. You can expect to receive about a dozen bike car messages per day. Keep this in mind if you pay for each short message received.

5. You probably ride the same 2 or 3 trains every day. LEARN THE TRAIN NUMBERS of the trains you ride. The last two digits of the train number are mounted on the mirror of the front car or locomotive. For example, northbound train #329 will have "29" in big black numbers on both front mirrors on the cab car.

6. Let the other cyclists on the platform know when you receive an update.

Caltrain train number

Volunteers (I'm one of them) provide the updates who enter this information, so you may or may not get bike car status for your train. I'm posting this mostly for the benefit of those passengers I see boarding in Sunnyvale or Mountain View every morning. They obviously don't see the bike car status I just sent 10 minutes beforehand. You can pretty much count on status for one or more of northbound trains 225, 227, or 329 each morning.

More techno-nerd information about this community supported service is at Ravi's website, who set it all up in the first place. Thanks Ravi!


gazer said...

Yesterday, my wife said that Caltrain's digital signs at San Mateo indicated that SB134 had no bike car.

I thought they couldn't run a train without a cab (aka bike) car.

murphstahoe said...

Yesterday I rode from SF to Millbrae with the intention of riding Caltrain from there. My phone was tweeting away and it was pretty cool knowing that 324 was old style - I lifted it up a notch and made the train by about 90 seconds. If I had known it was a bombadier I would have slowed down and taken 226 which I was alerted had 2 old bike cars. Magic!

Sadly I am missing the JPB meeting this AM - we were riding from SF and easily on schedule to make it to Google, get a free breakfast from my Google friends, and make a Caltrain to San Carlos. Then the BONK hit someone on the ride who didn't know the route. Clearly it was up to me to take it for the team, slow down and ride him to the finish.

Fritz said...

Ah, Murph, I was hoping you'd make the meeting so I could read your report. I haven't seen anything on the SFBC list yet about the JPB meeting.

Gazer: I didn't realize they posted the signs. I actually hung around the Mtn View station for a while looking for this trainset to take a photo. Apparently there are some Bombardier cab cars without bike racks?

Fritz said...

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: Here's a PDF to print and hand out to bike car patrons to let them know about Ravi's Twitter service.

I've heard, BTW, that he's been slow lately in handing out keys. A HOW TO on how to send updates will be forthcoming, though.

gazer said...

Ravi set me up to submit updates via SMS, which has worked well the couple of times there was anything of interest (Caltrain-wise) in SM.

Seems like a few more people are submitting from SF, which is really cool for me! I blew some minds yesterday knowing that 226 had the 2nd bike car.

ravi said...

I haven't been *that* slow on sending out the emails with keys. :)

I'm also working to write some simple web forms that will speed up the entry of bikecar specific updates. That way even if you don't know the train number off the top of your head it can be generated by the form.

I may also create a spelled out how-to guide on my blog too so things are unified. Not that I'm not appreciative for you creating the pdf et al.

murphstahoe said...

Depressing. I twittered out that 277 had 2 cars from SV. Delayed in MP and RWC as cyclists run down the platform.

This is awesome proof of concept but we need to get Caltrain to get the info on the electronic signs. Sigh.

Fritz said...

Murph, I was getting disappointed also twittering the updates but not seeing it put to good use. Hence my efforts now to get the word out.

I hope you don't mind me doing this, Ravi -- I know some people just didn't "get" how Twitter works, hence the step-by-step guide. I hope this makes it a little bit more clear.

ravi said...

Far be me to complain when the community wants to improve something. That is what I did by creating the service. Then again I was improving on nothing... but I digress. I love feedback and will incorporate whatever I can to my site to make things easier for the community to participate and understand it.

That said I have created a Getting Started guide[1] which adapts the instructions from your blog post.

[1] or if that is too long :)

Fritz said...

Ravi, your guide is much more succint and clear than mine. Thanks for doing that!