The finalists of NYC’s inaugural Transit Tech Lab demonstrate the transformative potential of smart city transportation solutions.
New York City has the largest public transit system in North America — over ten times the size of the second-largest system (Chicago). It includes over 12,000 buses and train cars and hundreds of miles of track. At the same time, most of the subway infrastructure is 70-100 years old, and the system as a whole handles almost 9 million riders every weekday. At present, the city is dealing with slow service, constant maintenance demands, outdated technology, and overcrowded systems — all at a massive scale.
To address these challenges, NYC is taking major steps to innovate its way toward transformative transportation solutions. In a joint public-private initiative, The Transit Innovation Partnership hosted its first Transit Tech Lab, selecting six finalists from among 100 applicants. These organizations are now working to build, prove, and implement specialized smart city solutions in one of the world’s most stringent test laboratories: New York City.
The Transit Tech Lab: Cutting-Edge Solutions for Contemporary Problems
The Transit Tech Lab is an initiative out of the Transit Innovation Partnership, which was created by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Partnership for New York City. The Partnership was first created as a response to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s appeal to the private sector, asking for help in modernizing and improving NYC’s bus and metro systems. The Transit Innovation Partnership is guided in part by an advisory board of leaders from academia, business, civic organizations, and government.
The executive director of the Transit Innovation Partnership, Rachel Haot, works with tech entrepreneurs to develop cutting-edge solutions designed to improve the NYC transit system. Haot has experience heading up new initiatives — she’s a founder of GroundReport and Upward, served as chief digital officer for New York State, and hosted the “Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge,” a competition for re-purposing NYC’s public payphones. If her smart transportation solutions are successful in NYC, they could influence how other cities reimagine their public transit infrastructure.
The inaugural Transit Tech Lab initiative began in 2018, and the eight-week accelerator began on Feb 25, 2019. This process was designed to help the accepted applicants better understand the challenges facing the MTA. In June of 2019, the companies will begin the year-long pilot launch.
Transit Tech Lab Finalists
Selected from a pool of 16 semifinalists, six finalists are currently working with the Transit Tech Lab to develop innovative transportation solutions. These are the finalists:
Improving Public Transportation with Technology
In addition to these proposed solutions, the MTA is already beginning to leverage smart city technologies to address its unique challenges. For instance, NYC offers a 24/7 transit system — highly unusual among major cities in America. The challenge? That leaves no natural time for maintenance. Plus, in this waterfront city, floodwaters threaten the many below-ground subway tunnels.
In the face of these obstacles, the MTA is undergoing some “next generation” changes for both behind-the-scenes maintenance and end-user convenience. As of 2017, all subway stations were wired for WiFi and cell service. A new MetroCard card reader design is currently undergoing testing, and will be implemented in all stations over the next several years. After an 11-year rollout, every NYC subway station now has countdown clocks that provide passengers with insights into expected train arrival times. These updates continue to improve efficiency and rider experience.
Other innovations are also helping the MTA save time and money. For instance, GIS-enabled maps are helping to predict signal issues and reveal opportunities for improvement. Maintenance managers are thus able to better coordinate repairs and preventative maintenance with the help of this data. At the same time, the MTA has integrated its logistics system with its new maintenance platform, providing instant visibility into materials delivery dates.
NYC as Smart City Inspiration
While many smart city ideas risk remaining purely theoretical, real-world applications, like those being unveiled in New York City, are pairing technology with theory to produce action. The MTA is already making strides to use data for improved efficiency, and the Transit Innovation Partnership initiative sets the bar one step higher.
When it comes to municipal transportation, these public-private partnerships underscore the transformative potential of getting the right data into the right hands at the right time. With the help of accurate, real-time information, city officials, and passengers alike can make smarter decisions about getting where they need to go.