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June 19, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has released MBTA See Say [iTunes link], a free iPhone/Android app that allows riders to "send the MBTA Transit Police pictures, text messages, and locations of unattended packages or suspicious activity" [link to MBTA apps page]. The camera's flash is disabled when a photograph is taken within the app. According to ELERTS, who built the app for the MBTA, "the opportunity to crowdsource information from riders who witness suspicious or criminal activities has not been realized by transit systems." The MBTA, which is the fifth largest transit system in the United States, is the first system to adopt this technology.
posted by catlet (62 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I find this fairly uncomfortable on a personal level (really? do we need to "crowdsource" everything? All that description lacks is some vague reference to The Cloud to be completely 2.0-ey), and the idea is rife with implementation issues - not the least of which will be the sheer noise as people fill the system with crap.

Quoting from an iTunes review: "Finally someone has thought of an App that will enable people to look out for each other! " For as we all know, looking out for your fellow man is best done via a 2.5" screen and a photograph.
posted by ellF at 3:12 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


allows riders to "send the MBTA Transit Police pictures, text messages, and locations of unattended packages or suspicious activity"

I'm excited by this, but only because it means I will be able to send them pictures, text messages, and locations of unattended trash and garbage and broken equipment.

Or maybe I won't do that because I don't want to waste police time, but honestly. If you want to terrorize the MBTA, just leave your bomb in a large stained Dunkin' Donuts bag, wrap it in a Metro and leave it on your seat. You can set it to go off hours later - don't worry, no one will attempt to clean it up or anything.
posted by Miko at 3:13 PM on June 19, 2012 [32 favorites]


Thank god people can be trusted not to abuse this app for the lulz it could provide.

yeah I got yer suspicious package *right here*
posted by fuq at 3:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have wanted or needed this on at least half of the transit trips I have taken in Florida.

Hundreds? Thousands.

The thing is, the first time a guy is photographed shaking his dick at other passengers, the police probably won't make it to the bus in time. But after several such photographs....man. That would get some dick wavers off of the buses and trains.

Oh wait. The transit authorities are generally in a tizzy over other kinds of potential explosive packages.
posted by bilabial at 3:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like what I'm really looking for is Talk to the T.
posted by Miko at 3:14 PM on June 19, 2012


This is going to spread, I suspect, as a replacement or very important supplement to 911.

We live in a surveillance society these days, not least because we watch and document each other. At least this is the benign, socially protective iteration.
posted by bearwife at 3:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"hey bros house on fire plz help?"
A house on fire in the great Boston area

5
backers

$5.35
pledged of putting out fire goal

30
minutes to go
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [58 favorites]


Stasi in America? There's an app for that!
posted by moonbiter at 3:29 PM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I will put this in the same folder as my Boot Stamping on a Human Face -- Forever app.
posted by chavenet at 3:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Essentially a 21st century panopticon that's citizen and mobile powered. Only there's no meaningful difference between observer and inmate anymore. It's just too powerful, flexible and cheap not to be exploited. Looking forward to the day when drones are a part of the picture and you have this automated and ubiquitous security system that "intelligently" responds to location based data.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I were not so cynical that my first thought was: Will this app let the MBTA cops now remotely erase pictures and videos of police misconduct from your phone once it's installed? I'm pretty damn sure that wasn't the intent, but even the most unreasonable doubts are hard to shake once you think of them.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:35 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Looks like what I'm really looking for is Talk to the T.

From the reviews:
It errors out when you try to send. I tried 3 different email accounts as once it complained one of them was invalid. There's no option to report issues on the commuter rail A total waste of your time. I gave up. Perhaps this is how the MBTA plans to handle complaints, by not taking them.
I filled out everything, even the optional info and photo, but it won't let me submit the issue.
Hard to use and doesn't even send your report. Version 1.0 and this came out months ago.


I can't decide if it would be funny or not to just send them a link to the app.
posted by bowmaniac at 3:38 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an idea. Let's combine the Underground New York Public Library with this crowd-surveillance, and catch people reading subversive literature!

Or ditch the phones altogether, and just stare and point at the suspicious people with your mouth wide open, screaming.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:40 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


or possibly:
"hey bros house red line on fire plz help?"
A house subway on fire in the great Boston area

5
backers

$5.35
pledged of putting out fire goal

30
minutes to go

posted by bowmaniac at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


yeah, hardly needs it's own app, does it?

But!

Would be nice to actually have somewhere to submit evidence of people being harassing or threatening on public transit.
posted by kavasa at 3:45 PM on June 19, 2012


The camera's flash is disabled when a photograph is taken within the app.

Yet another example of why I hate the concept of specialized Apps to do specific tasks. What if the thing I'm taking a picture of is in a dark corner of the station? What if my camera has some nifty infrared feature that the MBTA devs don't know about or didn't bother to add support for? Why can't I be trusted to just take the picture however I see fit and just send it to the MBTA?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:45 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a panopticonnoisseur.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny, this taser picture came out all blurry.
posted by benzenedream at 3:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why can't I be trusted to just take the picture however I see fit and just send it to the MBTA?

I think the thing is, people are much more likely to actually do it if there's a specialized app for it.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:51 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


To popularize the app I suggest they run a contest — try to take the photo with the most #1 buses in frame at one instant. (I think I could have gotten four of them yesterday around 5:00.) Each month's winner get the privilege to declare one Green Line train to run direct to their chosen stop, one time.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:51 PM on June 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


Isn't it Massachusetts that is in the habit of prosecuting people under wiretap laws for recording the police because they're a two-party consent state?

So, how the fuck...
posted by R. Schlock at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't it Massachusetts that is in the habit of prosecuting people under wiretap laws for recording the police because they're a two-party consent state?

Not anymore.

March 27, 2012: Boston Paying $170K For Videography Arrest
The Boston Globe is reporting that the City of Boston has paid $170,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed against them after they arrested a man for photographing police activity on the Boston Commons.

The underlying case was the subject of an earlier appellate ruling which held that “peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation.” Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 84 (1st Cir. 2011).

... The Boston Police Department initially defended the officers and in 2008 issued a memo stating that the two officers involved did nothing wrong, but back in January the department stated that the two officers would face discipline and used “ureasonable judgment,” according to the Globe.
posted by ericb at 4:01 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Boston PD Admits Arrest For Cell Phone Recording Was A Mistake.
posted by ericb at 4:03 PM on June 19, 2012


Ooh! I've got a couple pictures for them!

Oh wait, those were just fires on the Red Line.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:03 PM on June 19, 2012


I swear to God I am going to buy a jigsaw, fashion my own personal "Something," and carry it around with me everywhere I go from now on.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:06 PM on June 19, 2012


I hope Washington's WMATA does this so riders can take photographs of escalator repair workers slacking off.
posted by stratastar at 4:08 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


... recording the police ...

In related news: In related news: 'Stop and Frisk Watch' Android App Keeps Tabs on NYPD Stops
[The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)] has launched a smartphone app called 'Stop and Frisk Watch'.

The app allows the user to instantly begin recording an encounter with a police officer with their smartphone. After the recording stops, the app prompts the user to fill out a survey detailing the location, ethnicity of the person stopped, and the officer's name, all of which is sent directly to the NYCLU. There's also a Listen function that allows others to receive alerts when other users have activated the app during a police stop.

... Stop and Frisk Watch was created by Brooklyn-based software developer Jason Van Anden, the person behind the "I'm Getting Arrested" app that rose to prominence during last year's Occupy Wall Street events.
posted by ericb at 4:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The most frequent possible criminal activities I see people taking photos of on the T are passengers groping other passengers and passengers openly smoking cigarettes (or cigars) in the train cars.

The MBTA police are not, shall we say, ideal about responding to those issues. I guess they're saving their energies for terrorism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2012


Is there an app for screaming bloody fucking murder over their incoming ludicrous fare hikes starting July 1st?
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having just moved back to SF from Boston, I wish MUNI would do this because I never anything half as shady in my 9 months riding the T than I saw on my first MUNI trip back. However, knowing MUNI, the app would have a quarter of the functionality at four times the price. When you tried to take a picture with the app, nothing would happen for ages (or you'd get a Not in Service error message), but then it'd take three pictures in quick succession.
posted by smirkette at 5:06 PM on June 19, 2012


Honestly, I think I am going to take pictures of the trash I see sitting on the train and use this app to send them in. Not (just) to be an asshole, but in thinking about the situation, I arrived at this as the thought process:

1. We're concerned about somebody leaving a dangerous package on a train or in a train station.

2. But not concerned enough to use our existing frontline employees and cleaning staff whom we are already paying to patrol the trains and stations to maintain a secure and clean environment. Instead, we'll pay somebody to code an app and ask the public to discern the difference betweeen a dirty bomb in a brown paper sack and an old half sandwich in a brown paper sack.

In the simplest metric of efficiency, if you're worried about somebody doing something dangerous on the train "see something say something" directed at the passengers is fine, but if that's all you're doing you're really putting your energy in the wrong place. You've got an entire staff of people who know these facilities because they use and work them every day. They should be deployed, and empowered, to protect everyone using the system, and this is a primary way to do it.

It's a lot harder to find a place to conceal a device in a clean, well-lighted, well-maintained and frequently patrolled transportation facility than in a crappy, broken, overstuffed-trash-can, smelly, dark, garbagey, checked-out-undermanaged-and-underpaid-employee facility.

If they're serious, they'll invest in their staff, not some lazy-ass app. Hey, who am I to judge? Every piece of trash I see abandoned on the train could conceal a dangerous device. I'm not going to go near it - I'm just gonna send photos. And photos and photos. Maybe after sending enough crew to investigate they'll put two and two together and start actually managing the damn system.
posted by Miko at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


As we all know, the best security theater involves audience participation.
posted by delmoi at 5:48 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


So I wonder how many "suspicious packages" photos they get each days are photos of dicks.
posted by birdherder at 5:59 PM on June 19, 2012


I'm a patriotic citizen, and I always pay attention to the things the government tells me to look out for. So correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm almost positive that one of the most suspicious, terrorist-indicating behaviors they warned us about was people taking photos of public transportation.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:07 PM on June 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


At least this is the benign, socially protective iteration.

I'm sure no one will use it to send in pictures of groups of black teenagers.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:25 PM on June 19, 2012


Is there an app to report reckless driving?
posted by vidur at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2012


I'm almost positive that one of the most suspicious, terrorist-indicating behaviors they warned us about was people taking photos of public transportation.

We have always been taking photos of Eastasia.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:47 PM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


If they're serious, they'll invest in their staff, not some lazy-ass app.

You know the T is broke, right? Broke ass broke. Broke as shit. Broker than a broke dick dog. I was talking to a prof who studies this shit at Northeastern --- for years now, everytime they'd, say, sell a piece of land near the tracks to a developer, they've been funnelling the money into current year operating expenses. Fares pay for,IIRC, about 40% of the t's budget. For years, they've been making up for the rest with bond issues, meaning, as the head of MassDOT put it in a recent speech I saw him give, that your grandchildren will be paying the wages of the guy mowing the median on the Pike this morning for the next 40 years. They're only patching the hole this year because we had no snow.

Any solution that involves them hiring more staff is so far off the table it's next to the dog's bowl in the kitchen.

Sorry. I have to listen to a lot of people talk about smart growth and transit oriented development in my line of work. Only recently have any of them begun to reflect on how well that will work if, say, there's no commuter rail service on weekends.
posted by Diablevert at 7:02 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I think I am going to take pictures of the trash I see sitting on the train and use this app to send them in.

You might think you wouldn't be helping them with their stated goal, but garbage and garbage receptacles have actually been used by terrorist bombers in the past (as opposed to light-brights and stuffed horsies) under the principal of "hide a tree in the forest", so if we're worried about terrorism, this might actually be useful.

...the most suspicious, terrorist-indicating behaviors they warned us about was people taking photos of public transportation.

On the other hand, the evidence that terrorists are also enthusiastic scrapbookers or model railroaders is so slim that if some of this evidence were to fall into the hands of terrorists, they might string it across the track and cut the entire train and all it's passengers cleanly in half. All that's left is to ask why the people who carelessly make these arguments hate America so much?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:04 PM on June 19, 2012


I'd love to see the permissions list for this on Android.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:22 PM on June 19, 2012


If I keep taking pictures of the smelly man who loiters in the Harvard station for hours on end, will this finally get the T to get rid of him for good?
posted by pxe2000 at 7:38 PM on June 19, 2012


I want an app that gives people a gentle shock so they'll KEEP MOVING TO THE BACK OF THE TRAIN/BUS, YES EVEN YOU LADY WITH THE BIG STROLLER, BECAUSE HEY, WHADDAYA KNOW, OTHER PEOPLE ALSO WANT TO GET ON, AND WOW LOOK AT HOW MUCH SPACE IS LEFT BACK THERE.

ahem.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:03 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know the T is broke, right? Broke ass broke. Broke as shit.

Oh, I know. I know a fair amount about the MBTA -we go back a ways. But I have plenty of opinions about that, too. They shouldn't be broke. It's been a series of bad decisions, one after the other, for years, and utter failures of management at every level are to blame for their own inability to turn a profit.

I've lived in too many places with functional systems to let them just throw up their hands and say "it's insoluble!" They're the stupidest public transport company just about anywhere.

Any solution that involves them hiring more staff is so far off the table it's next to the dog's bowl in the kitchen.

Right, I do understand the money's not about to materialize (except that wait, wasn't that what our new Homeland Security Department grants were for?) but note I don't propose that they hire ANY more staff. I propose that they get their existing staff to do this. Keeping a train car or platform clear of unattended packages is a perfectly reasonable component of a transit worker's job description.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on June 19, 2012


You might think you wouldn't be helping them with their stated goal, but garbage and garbage receptacles have actually been used by terrorist bombers in the past

No, I'm actually totally serious. I've always thought of the garbage as just an irritant before, but now I am able to perceive it as the hazard that it is.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on June 19, 2012


Don't worry, the MBTA has been busy installing bomb-resistant trash barrels, which have the added bonus of being harder to steal, given that they weigh more than 400 lbs. apiece. If you want to worry about trash, worry about fires caused when the stuff thrown on the tracks accumulates and catches fire - the Red Line has had three track fires just since last Thursday.
posted by adamg at 8:44 PM on June 19, 2012


Oh yeah, I've been on a train when it was on fire. Just a small fire! No worries!

Those trash barrels....oy. $2000 apiece, over 200 of them, federal grant that required purchase from a sweetheart supplier that didn't cover the labor...
posted by Miko at 8:52 PM on June 19, 2012


The timing of this with the fare increase and service cuts starting in 11 days is a little off. Am I supposed to be glad my money is going to iPhone apps (for the customers who can afford iPhones) while the E line gets a new terminus on weekends?

On the other hand, Improv Boston timed the revival of their "T: An MBTA Musical" pretty perfectly with the fare increase.
posted by maryr at 9:00 PM on June 19, 2012


Isn't it Massachusetts that is in the habit of prosecuting people under wiretap laws for recording the police because they're a two-party consent state?

As mentioned, your right to film the police has been solidly affirmed in MA. Should you experience a problem recording the police, I would very much like to hear about it.

We're also exploring the feasibility of bringing that NYCLU app to MA...
posted by rollbiz at 9:20 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for the "MBTA is broke" bit, that is true. How much of that reality the MBTA is actually to be blamed for, that's another story...
posted by rollbiz at 9:22 PM on June 19, 2012


Does this count as sousveillance?
posted by molecicco at 11:36 PM on June 19, 2012


Or ditch the phones altogether, and just stare and point at the suspicious people with your mouth wide open, screaming.

That is the funniest thing I have read in days. I keep bursting into laughter. Thank you.
posted by Mr_Zero at 1:05 AM on June 20, 2012


"MBTA is broke" bit, that is true. How much of that reality the MBTA is actually to be blamed for

They're broke in the same way the US Post Office is broke: they've become the free riding economic booster for a number of industries with no commensurate private or public funding support.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:57 AM on June 20, 2012



Oh, I know. I know a fair amount about the MBTA -we go back a ways. But I have plenty of opinions about that, too. They shouldn't be broke. It's been a series of bad decisions, one after the other, for years, and utter failures of management at every level are to blame for their own inability to turn a profit.


Yes and no, I think. You're right that it was mismanaged for a long time. But on the other hand, it was Celluci that decided to stick them with the Big Dig debt, and that's what pushed their head under the water completely. If you check something like the MAPC's online "Fix the T's Budget" tool, everything else they could possibly do pales in comparison to the debt service. Take that away and they're in the black by a considerable margin.

That's why I think things like this app or whatever don't bother me much --- they've been pushing a bunch of stuff at the margins to make DOT more responsive and communicate better with the public --- opening up the bus and rail data to app developers, making an online display for the DMV line. They're switching up those signs over the Pike soon so they actually display real time traffic info. This is cheap and a bit gimmicky, but I like that they're at least fucking trying something to make dealing with them a less worse experience. Does it matter much in the end in comparison to the sea of red ink? Probably not. But it seems to me a bit no win for them --- people complain about the service all the time and then bitch that the little improvements they do try to make don't address the big problems when addressing the big problems --- funding major repairs and upgrades and better service --- would mean a tax hike that people don't want either.
posted by Diablevert at 4:44 AM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm just gonna send 'em this image.
posted by kcds at 4:47 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree about the debt. It's a problem, and ultimately I think they'll be able to shift that. And I agree that the inflexible tax revenue is limiting growth. I've read all the Financials papers on the MBTA website.

But I don't buy any of that as an excuse for the poor management and the poor decisionmaking. You don't need a healthy budget to make better decisions or to actively manage your staff or to collect the freaking fares. My commuter rail fare only gets collected about 60% of the time - the rest of the time the conductors just blow it off. They recently did a crackdown aiming for 100% collection, but obviously the supervision slacked off and so did the collecting. They miss opportunities to monetize aspects of the system and spend on nonessentials that leave them worse off. It actually really disgusts me - if you read the Financials papers you can see comparisons with other major cities and a lot of pleading that gee, everyone has it bad right now, it's a transport crisis - and it is, and we need more public funding and yes, that means the end of cut-cut-cut - but when you travel and compare this system to that in other cities, it really, profoundly fails to do even the things within its budgetary power to increase ridership and increase revenue via other streams.
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on June 20, 2012


Mass. Senate OK’s $49m MBTA bailout -- "Plan would avert bigger hikes, cuts."
posted by ericb at 10:30 AM on June 20, 2012


Wow, I hadn't played with that debt calculator before. Assuming the information in it is accurate, the state reassuming even half the debt it transferred to the MBTA easily solves the budget problems. That is incredible.
posted by maryr at 7:23 AM on June 21, 2012


Yeah, the calculator thing provides a lot of viable ways to solve the problem - and that's playing with a stacked deck. With a different management approach I think you could find even more efficiencies and areas to grow.
posted by Miko at 12:02 PM on June 21, 2012


And still, a lot of their problems aren't not-enough-money problems.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2012


When you say area to grow, Miko, what kinds of things arre you thinking of?
posted by Diablevert at 12:14 PM on June 21, 2012


They don't maximize revenue or monetize half of what they could. The parking, premium parking/premium seating on commuter rail, the stations, passes, increased advertising/sponsorship, event packaging, busking fees (only $25, are you kidding me? The ROI on that is nuts), vending licenses, vending itself, enhancing special service on "cash cow" runs, app development (beyond this one), right-sizing vehicles such as buses and trains for varying capacity, (they run 4 empty train cars for most evening trains on NBPT-Rockport Line), dedicated/charter services, venturing further into tourism market, etc. Very little entrepreneurialism in the system.

You might like to follow the Urban Mechanics Workshop.
posted by Miko at 1:58 PM on June 21, 2012


ACLU releases Android app that secretly videos police -- "Police Tape prevents officers from deleting video shot during police stops."
posted by ericb at 1:58 PM on July 9, 2012


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