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El Tracker is a new transit tracking app that focuses on accessibility

"I could see this app being very useful for people already familiar with the CTA," Steven said.

One of the new 7000-series Blue Line cars. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is sponsored by The Bike Lane.

David Khachatryan, one of the co-creators of the CTA app EL Tracker, recently reached out to Streetsblog Chicago to tell us about this new option for getting accurate train times in an era of unreliable service. "We love the CTA and we tried to take action by making a completely free train tracker," he wrote. "It doesn’t solve the core issues with the CTA, but it does improve it in some way."

"EL Tracker is completely, 100 percent free since we want Chicago transit to be as accessible as possible," Khachatryan added. "We also have iOS widgets, Siri integration, and lots of other great features. We have outage notifications for stations, lines, and elevators outages... It is transit tracking by Chicagoans, for Chicagoans."

Image: El Tracker

Khachatryan didn't offer to pay us for promoting the app, but since it's free and I thought it might be a useful tool for 'L' riders, I shared the info with Streetsblog Chicago's resident tech guru, Steven Vance. He liked what he saw. "It’s a nice app," he responded. "I might start using it. The accessibility feature is nice because other apps don’t surface that as well (or at all). It allows you to filter elevator and escalator outages by line." 

"I could see this app being very useful for people already familiar with the CTA," Steven added. "It won’t help people who need navigation help. Which is fine. My sister uses a simple bus tracker app because she generally already knows which bus routes she needs to take." 

Steven had a few questions that I shared with Khachatryan, who provided answers. I'll share the exchange with you in an interview-style format. - John Greenfield

The El Tracker logo.

Steven Vance: There are a lot of transit tracker apps out there, including ones that work in many cities and ones that work just in Chicago. What sets EL Tracker apart from those?

David Khachatryan: EL Tracker is the only completely free (and ad-free) Chicago transit app that offers:

- Siri and voice support and low-vision accessibility

- Multiple languages to cater to the diverse needs of the local Chicago population (including Spanish and Polish) [There's also Armenian.]

Image: El Tracker

- Modern, customizable iOS widgets displaying departures

- Tailored alerts with push notifications, including elevator outage/accessibility notifications

See our full list of features (and user reviews) at

SV: I saw on Twitter that one of the features is to report a ghost train. When will this be available? Where does the report go to?

DK: [This feature became available on June 12.] Our users report the missing trains through EL Tracker. When a train is reported missing by multiple users or at multiple stations, we add a ghost icon to that train's run to warn our other users of the potential ghost train... User reports are the easiest way to filter out incorrect arrival data from the CTA, creating a more reliable tracker for all.

SV: It looks like El Tracker may be unique in that it alerts people to elevators and escalators that are out. Who do you anticipate will use this? Why did you develop it?

Image: El Tracker

DK: During our beta testing, we spoke with many of our testers about accessibility, or lack thereof. We learned that the CTA has an elevator outage text service. However, we also learned that the text service is flukey and inconsistent, and will be out of order for days on end. When working, it sends outage alerts for every single station in the CTA system, bombarding the user with notifications and making it easy to miss relevant information.  

We want to help create the most reliable service for riders of all ages and abilities. Our system allows the user to select the stations they want alerts for, and consistently sends out timely alerts without any crashes. We hope that with EL Tracker's service, no one is ever caught off guard at the station again, unaware that they cannot get up to the platform.

SV: What other unique features are there? What pitch do you make to get people to use El Tracker?

DK: Aside from the features I listed above that set us apart, the main reason people use EL Tracker is because it's simple and modern.  

While the Ventra app makes payment easy, and includes an integrated map, the actual app and user experience is outdated. Default map apps, such as Google Maps, frequently show inaccurate arrival times, and other independent apps frequently require an expensive monthly subscription to use simple features.  

The integrated map. Image: El Tracker

Our users appreciate our simple, accurate arrival display that mimics the one seen on every screen at every CTA station.  We have duplicated that display in our widgets, so your daily commute can be on your homescreen, just like the weather, or your inbox.  We have sophisticated features like SmartWalk for widgets, which uses your location to show you the next arrival after your walking time to the station, but we do not compromise on basic and intuitive features like live trains on an integrated map.

Image: El Tracker

While EL Tracker is for all, we prioritize accessibility.  Aside from our elevator alerts, we are the first Chicago transit app to be compatible with Siri.  Our users can ask "Hey Siri, when's the next train on EL Tracker?" and get a full list of arrivals without ever even picking up the phone.

Image: El Tracker

Lastly, our app is free, and ad-free.  We are supported by donations—we do not believe that a public transportation app should be behind a paywall.

Check out the El Tracker website for more info.

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