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Wireless alerts get real-time CTA info to the masses

Last night during the height of the rush hour, Cheryl wrote a comment on an unrelated post, alerting us to the train fire that shut the Brown and Purple Lines. She lamented that she didn't know how to share that info with us:

"We really need somewhere here to post alerts. Right now the Brown and Purple Lines are only running north of Belmont. There's a fire on the tracks near Sedgwick. I wanted to let people here know about this, but I don't really know where to put it."

Well Cheryl, your wish is my command. We've set up a wireless notification group. That's where you post these types of alerts.

Last month, after an unattended package messed up rush hour yet again, my brother Dan suggested we post CTA alerts to a wireless notification group he set up with upoc.com called CTA Alerts.

Dan noted in his comment: "The amazing thing about this thread is that there is so much detailed, custom information in it that could have been useful yesterday but wasn't shared until it was too late/ not useful anymore. It got me to thinking about how cool it would be if everyone here could have shared their info immediately -- from the platform or bus -- with other interested people. Delivering way better information than the garbled speakers and intransigent CTA employees."

When you join the CTA Alerts group, you can send and receive text messages from your cell phone, PDA or email account to everyone else in the group -- sharing what you know when you know it, in real time.

So that's a solution that Cheryl was looking for. And I think we should give it a try. There already are four members including myself.

Some ground rules though:

  • Don't send spam.
  • Make sure they are truly alerts, like a train lines is out of service, or there's a delay because of a medical emergency.
  • Be specific with info but brief. Your message can be just 120 characters/spaces in length. That's just 15-20 short words.

What do you think?


i think i signed up for it, but i'm not sure.. i did it when i saw the initial post in comments, but i couldn't tell if it worked from the website... i was expecting something to come through on the celly (you know how i love that cell phone), and i never got anything.


Jocelyn, I sent a test msg last night to the group of four currently registered. (If you registered udner thename Jocelyn I didn't see it).

If you didn't get a text msg last night (or at least one other time when I sent a test), then I don't believed you are properly registered.

Please try again!

I tried registering (Matt60626), but did not receive a text message. I don't use text messaging on my cell (I'm probably the only person under 30 in the city who doesn't!) and I don't even know if I have that feature with my plan. I can check my yahoo e-mail from my phone so I signed up for the e-mail option.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to thank Dan for setting this up. It's a GREAT idea!

>Don't send spam.

If it were just that easy....

"This CTA update brought to you by Cellular One"

I give it a week before the big boys muscle in on this.

But it is a great idea, I'm on board nonetheless

This is an AWESOME idea. I was actually going to post about this on my blog a few months ago but forgot. I think the CTA should have a wireless alerts service that allows users to sign up and indicate interests by:

(a) Train line
(b) Time period
(c) Type of delay

The airlines and booking services (e.g. Orbitz) have gotten great at this. Anyway, I'm really excited about this and think it could be a great time-saver.

Re: SPAM. I'm concerned about this. Is there a way in the text message group to limit senders to an "authorized list?" that is a subset of the overall subscribers? Someone approved by Kevin?

Do I have to sign up with this shady-looking UPOC site, or do I just have to send a JOIN CTAALERTS message to 8762?

Are there any fees other than the fees my cellular provider imposes for the normal delivery and receipt of text messages?

Actually, upon looking at the group, I think its settings need to be tweaked. Specifically:

* No MMS
* Not everyone can msgs
* And can you get that "ctaalerts (at) upoc (dot) com" address out of the group home page so this doesn't become spam heaven? Allow SMS only from registered, approved members?

Well, I registered about an hour ago and with everyone "testing" I'm almost ready to cancel the service.

People! Trust that this stuff works and stop sending annoying "test" messages.

Yes, the system works-- no need for test messages. I'm thinking we will have a little rought start but then we can trust each other not to spam everyone (even if by accident).

Tom Sherman-- I will check the settings & report back...

Here's how I modified the group settings:

* Removed MMS option (which was the ability to send voice & images-- not really necessary in our case. More on image sharing is forthcoming-- we can use other tools for this)
* Removed "ctaalerts (at) upoc (dot) com" so as to reduce possibility of outside spammers
* I kept the "everyone can send message" setting because deleting that ability would defeat the purpose, which is to allow everyone to produce and consume quality info about the status of CTA service at any given time. We do have the ability to boot people from the group if they spam, send poor quality information, etc.

I also modified the welcome message to try to suppress test messages. It may be a little messy at first, but if we can get to a place where messages are sent rarely and with trust, we'll be in good shape.

I think as we move forward on this, the best way to go about it is a "group conscience" fashion. We can use this comment thread to make setting requests similar to tom sherman's above, make boot requests for offending members, etc. Basically, what I'm saying is even though I happened to create the group, we should make decisions about how we administer it together.

now *this* is where those underground lines for cell phones would be useful - so you could tell what the hold up was if you're stuck underground!

DXO: Awesome. Thanks. Looks good.

BTW, I'm sure this makes me look like a privacy kook, which I'm not, but I just read the Privacy Policy at UPOC. This is the important part:

Newsletters, Contests and Other Information from Clients

When you sign up to receive alerts and other information from one of our Clients, the settings default to your having opted-in to receive newsletters, sign up for contests, or receive additional information directly from that Client as well. If you do not choose to opt-out from receiving such additional content directly from the Client, you grant us permission to share your Personal Information and General Information with them for that purpose. You may opt-out by logging on to Upoc.com and going to Settings > My Messages. Even if you elect not to receive such additional content directly from our Clients, it is generally necessary for us to share portions of your Personal Information and/or General Information with such Client to the extent necessary to provide you with the alerts and other information you have requested.

Because Clients may have different privacy policies than Upoc Networks, and Upoc Networks has no control over its Clients, we encourage you to read the Client's privacy policy before receiving additional content, alerts or other information. By not opting-out from receiving additional content directly from a Client, or from receiving alerts or other information from one of our Clients, you acknowledge and agree that Upoc Networks is not responsible, and shall not be liable, for the practices of any Client or any use such Client may make of your Personal Information or General Information. If you do not want us to share your data with the Client, you should opt-out from receiving additional content, alerts and other information from such a Client.

okay. i tried 5 times to 'register' and i fill it all out, hit send, it goes back to the home page, i try to log in, and then... it says, i can't log in. grrrr.

clueless, i am.???????

Anyone else a former AT&T Wireless customer? When I registered for Upoc, it said that there is a $.02 per message received from Upoc. I found a blurb on Upoc's FAQ saying they instituted the charge in 2004, but that was before Cingular bought AT&T Wireless. So I don't know if they still charge it or what. If so, that's kind of annoying since all incoming messages are supposed to be free.


I am a former AT&T customer too, so I'd like to know more before I sign up. This is a great idea, though. I'm pretty sure I've read about other cities where the transit agency offers this service. Imagine that!


Are you just talking about the per-SMS rate for AT&T wireless? I don't see how Upoc could charge you anything additional, as they don't have any credit card info. (But I think I'm misreading your comment.)

What would be nice is if Upoc had a setting to limit # of messages received per day, or month, or whatever, just to prevent you from getting killed on charges. Maybe I overlooked that setting.

here's the url describing the charge: http://www.upoc.com/helpAtt.jsp

I'm not really sure why AT&T/Cingular would be charging specifically for Upoc messages... they advertised that we get unlimited free incoming text messages.

After I completed registration on Upoc, it also said something about $.02 per message. I think AT&T Wireless (now Cingular, I guess) would be the one tacking the charge onto my monthly bill.

$.02 isn't a big deal; I guess it's the principle of the thing, plus if a ton of messages do get sent, it could add up to a significant amt.

If they do charge, I think I could do a workaround by having Upoc send the messages to my email and then set up my email to automatically forward to my phone...

If you're still using an AT&T calling plan and haven't formally migrated to a Cingular plan, then you would still probably be charged for those messages.

My wife and I have continued under our AT&T plan and haven't noticed any changes at all to the fees.

There is already a service like this among CTA management employess because my dad gets a page whenever there is an "incident" warranting one such as assaults on CTA property, service interruptions, etc. I can forward these messages from his pager when I have access to them and it'd give you guys a chance to learn some of the lingo they use.

i have a pay as you go (from my checking acct) with the former at&t wireless. do you think that's why i can't set it up?

More info on the Upoc/AT&T Wireless issue... AT&T Wireless users, you're basically a victim of having free SMS messages. :-P (I mean, the rest of us already pay for these.)

Please note that this new charge will apply ONLY to AT&T Wireless users. This is due to the fact that AT&T is the only carrier that doesn't currently charge at all for received SMS; Upoc had no choice in order to have a business with AT&T users.

For former AT&T wireless users: The page above doesn't explain whether the pricing changed when Cingular bought AT&T wireless, but the logical conclusion is that if your SMS'ing is still free (in general), your Upoc messaging will be $0.02 per (in specific).

I have sprint and have unlimited SMS so not a problem for me. Its all included in my phone wireless web plan. This UPOC site is a great idea for us L riders!

Why not also post timely announcements about delays on your website, for folks who dont have cell phones, email capability on cell phones? Then we can quickly check website before we jump on the El.

Newsletters, Contests and Other Information from Clients

When you sign up to receive alerts and other information from one of our Clients, the settings default to your having opted-in to receive newsletters, sign up for contests, or receive additional information directly from that Client as well.

Is that why I'm receiving little pop-culture quizes that say they're coming from the CTA notice line? (ie. "What new TV show will you watch?")

My cell phone has been blessedly free from spam/solicitors/etc, so it's good to know this can be turned off. :)

yes, it is. go to the upoc website and edit your preferences so you don't get announcements from upoc.

I registered for the service when I visited Chicago. My phone is registered with Bell Mobility in Canada and now that I have returned home, I cannot turn the alerts off. Can someone tell me how to turn them off from a Bell phone in Canada. STOP, QUIT, and so on do not seem to work.

Tom Shermans comment scared me right out of registering. I dread the day I get a spam text messages. They won't be special anymore once some advertiser yanks away my phones once playful innocence...

I digress; The idea is a good one, but upoc seems kinda sketchy based on it's privacy policy. I'd much prefer a responder type interface; something that I could text "info" to and have it tell me about the general health of the CTA and relay status messages.

until I'm a programmer, I can only wish.

Sorry to misuse a comment for this, but aperna1 spammed me this afternoon via SMS to join his UPOC group Axis Media, which is apparently a spinoff of a commercial concern. Since the only UPOC group I'm on is CTA_alerts, he could only have gotten my info from there -- you might want to check to see if he's spammed other members or otherwise abused his CTA_alerts membership. Thanks.

I think the CTA could do a better job of notifying riders there is a problem before they enter the station or turnstile. They should have their station reps tell riders there is a delay and give options for taking buses. I did not hear what was going on until I was on the train and stopped at Grand. The driver did a great job of telling passengers what was going on, but the messaging should have started at the station entrance!

I just created a web site called WhereTheEL.com to allow El riders to use their Twitter accounts to notify everyone of where trains are located... it's still a rough draft, but thought it would be a fun little project.

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