Thanks to an app released today by the MTA, millions of subway riders in New York City can check when their next train is arriving before paying their fare. The app, called MTA Subway Time, is only available as a web app or as a download for iPhone, and it gives users up-to-the-minute updates of how far away the next train is. Not every train in the city is trackable, however: only the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 42nd Street Shuttle are supported. There are seventeen other subway lines in New York, and all of them except for the L and 7 trains will take "hundreds of millions of dollars and years of dedicated effort" to be upgraded, according to the president of MTA New York City Transit.

The app itself is very basic: it lists limited station info with minute-by-minute arrival times by stop. It all works, but it's sluggish and it feels very dated. Subway Time isn't optimized for the iPhone 5's screen and it doesn't even have basic features like directions or a map of the subway system. Navigation is also very poor; there's no search functionality, so you’ll have to choose a line and then scroll through all of the stops to find the one you’re looking for.

We can't wait to see what Google will do with this data

While the app is certainly a bit of a disappointment, straphangers should be glad to hear that the MTA is releasing the data behind Subway Time to developers, allowing them to integrate real-time tracking into their own applications for free. Apps like iTrans, Embark, and Google Maps already leverage data from the MTA, and we suspect that updates introducing real-time tracking will arrive soon enough.

Dante D'Orazio contributed to this article.