Easy Riders

Clever Commute - New Jersey Monthly - Best of NJ

You’re on the platform, peering down the tracks for any sign of the train that should have pulled into the station seven minutes ago. But so far, no train, no announcement, and no alerts from njtransit.com appearing on your BlackBerry. Argh.

Then you get an e-mail from a passenger already aboard that train. Subject line: “7:23 from Madison to NY Penn stopped for fallen overhead wires, running 15 min late.” Now you know you’ve got time for a cup of coffee while you wait. A few stops down the line, another commuter checks her phone as she heads out the door, sees the same message, and decides to take the bus to make sure she gets to her meeting on time.

Clever Commute (clevercommute.com), a free service created by Montclair resident Josh Crandall, connects mass transit commuters through their mobile devices. It enables them to send real-time alerts to others riding the same bus or train lines. Clever Commute began two years ago after Crandall floated the idea among his neighbors on the train platform. “I talked to them about forming a very loose alliance to be an extra set of eyes for each other,” he says. What started as text messaging among a few friends—tipping off the others to track troubles, weather delays, and the like—soon grew to several dozen.

A technologist with a Wall Street firm, Crandall decided to widen the service to include NJTransit bus and train lines beyond the ones the initial group used. He applied his high-tech skills to develop an e-mail list-serv that would allow large numbers of people to send and receive anonymous transit updates to fellow riders. In sending the message, the commuter doesn’t have to select the recipients—from sign-up info, the system knows what lines each commuter uses. Clever Commuters now number “in the thousands,” Crandall says, with coverage including the Long Island Railroad and Metro North, as well as cities across the country and in Europe.

Crandall wants to keep the service free, but may eventually sell ads appended to messages. For now, he’s happy to help commuters help each other.

“One guy said to me that commuting is a game, and the way you win this game is by having information,” he says. “With Clever Commute, that information gets to you faster.”

 

WHAT’S SO CLEVER?

Clever Commute links individual mass-transit riders into a community who alert each other instantly to problems on their bus or train lines. It works on any text-messaging cell phone—and it’s free.

HOW COME NO CARS?

Drivers stuck in traffic might well envy the edge Clever Commute’s riders enjoy, but until message technology evolves further, Crandall is in no hurry to expand the service to automobiles. “Text messaging while driving isn’t safe,” he says. “We don’t want to contribute to accidents and further congestion.”

 

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