MTA Weekend Service Advisories

The MTA runs the subway, buses, and some commuter rail lines in New York City. It runs 24 hours a day and every day of the year. I can say without hesitation that is the best public transportation system I have ever used.

In addition to all of those things, the MTA also runs a beta version of a Weekend Service Advisory notification service. Because the subway does not close at night, most maintenance work is done on weekends and there are always strange service changes or interruptions (e.g., subways may run only local or express, be replaced by buses, etc). Normally, you find out about these by reading the signs posted in the stations.

The MTA Weekend Advisory System aims to put an email interface on all of this. You can log in with an email address and select the train lines that you want to know about and then changes made to those routes are emailed to you every Friday. From a technical perspective it sounds pretty simple.

If you visit the advisory site you will see uninterpolated VBScript at the top. You will soon understand how absolutely appropriate this is.

After the two weeks where the site didn’t allow me to sign up, I got my first email. It began something like this:

 Dear NYC Transit E-mail subscriber:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> 

It’s basically it’s been that way every since. Every week I get an email full of what looks like Microsoft specific uninterpolated XML variables. I’ve been wondering for months how they can send these out week after week and not notice that they are completely unreadable.

I think I’ve discovered why. The advisories use a multipart/alternatives mail and the HTML looks file. The reason that I (and everyone else I know) has been seeing the garbage is because we all read text/plain if it’s available and the brokenness is hidden if you read the HTML. Apparently, the MTA developers have not ever read their own text/plain advisory.

I would unsubscribe from the advisories now that I have moved away from New York except that:

  1. I’m sort of curious as to how long it will take them to notice and fix this (I reported the bug weeks ago).
  2. I have absolutely no faith that I will be able to do so successfully.
  3. I somewhat enjoy the chuckle I get each week as I read this error.

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