Commuter-operated CTA Twitter launched

By John Lendman

One of the most common complaints commuters have with the CTA is its lack of communication, according to various Chicago-centric CTA bloggers-riders simply want real-time information.

So it seems for CTA Twitter creator Dan O’Neil, if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.

In an effort to deliver more efficient and timely updates to the average commuter, CTA-vigilante bloggers have teamed up with Dan O’Neil, the creator of CTA Alerts on, to launch the unofficial Twitter tracker designed to update CTA commuters in a textable micro-blogosphere. The texted “tweets,” centered on all eight rail lines and eventually each bus route, will make information about schedule-compromising mishaps readily available as they occur, Dan O’Neil said.

But this program-turned-cell-phone application wasn’t created overnight. Dan O’Neil had help from CTA officials updating the daily delay information “from the top down.” Assistance in funneling the encrypted code updates came from Chicago.TransitAPI creator Harper Reed, and Dan O’Neil’s brother, Kevin O’Neil, who operates CTA Tattler, an online CTA-watchdog blog with more than 3,000 to 5,000 daily viewers, provided the audience.

“The idea is to get this information to the masses,” Kevin O’Neil said. “Twitter is just another way to do that.”

Kevin O’Neil said he often hears from his blog’s readers about how the CTA needs to improve communication to its commuters. This program makes the train schedule information and updates on delays available for that rider earnestly waiting in the cold for 40 minutes on an elevated train platform, he said.

“We have the possibility to get information about your exact mode of transportation-when you need it,” he said. “The potential is there, but it takes an involved and interested community … as well as help from the CTA.”

Since its launch date on Sept. 25, the CTA Tweet has attracted about 240 followers.

A typical CTA Tweet sent out to users who follow the site’s updates, could be similar to a message delivered on Oct. 1 at 9:20 a.m., which said, “Southbound Purple Line train has no power and is stalled just north of Chicago Avenue station, stalled for over 20 minutes.”

Reed, who describes himself as a hacker of sorts, said he originally came up with the idea to publish updates from CTA train schedule delays in 2005 when his wife would complain about daily CTA inefficiencies.

He managed to set up the Chicago.TransitAPI program by streaming official CTA update information into a more user-friendly cell phone application that tracks approaching buses and trains, he said.

“It basically offered this glimpse into this future of not having to wait for 40 minutes for a bus to arrive,” Reed said.

Reed offered CTA Tweet users the ability to publish updated CTA schedule information from Chicago.TransitAPI, which has about 425 subscribed users.

“By moving it to Twitter you get a lot more people subscribing,” Reed said. “It’s community-powered.”

While Reed and the O’Neil brothers agree CTA update information should be more accessible to Chicago commuters, Reed said the potential for CTA Tweet to evolve should also include a way for commuters to know exactly when buses and trains are arriving at particular stops.

“We’re hoping that this is going to spread by word-of-mouth,” Kevin O’Neil said, citing the attention received from Chicago-centric blogs such as, and

Conversely, 24-year-old Lakeview resident Ed Hayes, who subscribes to CTA Tweet alerts, said he would trust the program’s alerts more if they all came directly from CTA officials.

“I like using Twitter, but I think that going through a third party like Twitter is a bad idea,” Hayes said. “Especially because Twitter goes down a lot when it is overloaded with tweets.”

Kevin O’Neil, who meets regularly with CTA president Ron Huberman to discuss CTA Tattler’s reader requests, said the CTA has been talking about creating a text-friendly application direct from CTA officials to commuters, but the funding isn’t currently available to create it.

“[CTA officials] are definitely interested in knowing what the riders are thinking,” Kevin O’Neil said. “They want to be able to get their own platform and put it out there themselves in the future. [Until then], we’re just trying to get this information to the masses.”