- New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway and buses, is launching a “transit tech lab.”
- Six inaugural companies have been tasked with easing platform congestion and speeding up buses throughout the five boroughs.
- The program’s executive director, Rachel Haot, spoke exclusively to Business Insider about the program, which is the first-of-its-kind in the US.
The New York Subway has been in a state of emergency for more than a year.
Almost every rush hour, train service is snarled by finicky, 100-year old signals, causing dangerously crowded platforms and angering commuters. Above ground, things aren’t much better: you could easily out-walk the average speed of a bus in Gotham.
Some of that might soon change, if the six companies chosen by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a first-of-its-kind tech accelerator the agency has dubbed the “transit tech lab,” are successful at the two challenges set out for them – but it won’t be easy.
Over the next eight weeks, the startups will work alongside the MTA to find solutions to overcrowded platforms and ineffective bus lanes. The program’s executive director, Rachel Haot, spoke exclusively to Business Insider about the accelerator, and how it could help the agency make up for some of its past technology struggles.
“This creates an opportunity for the MTA to approach long-standing challenges through a fresh lens, to attract new solutions to those problems, to expand the types of vendors that they would typically work with, and to accelerate the pace of testing and evaluating these new technologies,” Haot, who previously served as the state’s chief digital officer, said.
The six companies are a diverse group of startups, with specialties ranging from computer vision and artificial intelligence, to automated licence plate recognition and bus maintenance monitoring.
Palisade Labs, for example, powers front-facing cameras on buses that can monitor bus lanes for traffic violations and other roadblocks that can slow down buses. That could be huge for outer-borough straphangers given that average bus speeds in the city average below seven miles-per-hour (though it will be up to the NYPD to enforce violations, even when its cops parked in bus lanes).
On the subway side, the two finalists – Axon Vibe and Veovo – use cell phone data, sensors, and cameras to monitor platform crowding and warn MTA operations of potential danger.
“All of these companies are using data in a way that makes MTA operations more efficient, and that’s definitely a theme we see running through these companies,” Haot said. “
And as MTA officials set out to completely redesign the city’s bus routes – some of which still mirror street car lines from more than a century ago – data from Remix, another finalist company, could help. The product aims to paint a complete transportation picture for cities, including public transit, streets, and new mobility options.
“Technology is so much more powerful today,” Haot said. “It enables this process to be much more efficient and more data-driven – and that’s what we’re excited to see.”
After 8 weeks of the program, which is made possible in conjunction with the Partnership Fund for NYC, the MTA will have the option of using its usual procurement processes to expand any of the six companies’ technologies throughout the five boroughs.
“Technologists love to solve complex problems at scale,” Haot said. “And as far as complex challenges go, the MTA presents a really interesting opportunity for entrepreneurs and technologists to improve public transit.”
Here’s the full list of six finalists, from the MTA’s official press release
- Axon Vibe: Detects and predicts real-time traffic patterns through a smartphone app. Consumers can opt-in to share their location and receive predictions and alerts through the app about subway incidents or delays. In addition, consumers can receive timely, location-based coupons through the app.
- Veovo: Uses a mix of sensor technologies and cameras to analyse the number of people in an area. The technology can identify if there are dangerous crowding conditions in a train station and report it back to transit operational centres to take action.
- Palisade Labs: Based in Brooklyn, Palisade Labs applies computer vision technology to the footage captured by forward-facing cameras on MTA buses to assess the obstructions in dedicated bus lanes. This technology can identify vehicles as well as licence plate numbers, which can be reviewed by traffic enforcement authorities. The result is improved bus speeds and more efficient allocation of traffic enforcement resources.
- PIPS Technology: Uses advanced Automatic Licence Plate Recognition to identify bus lane obstructions and share with traffic enforcement authorities. Transit operators can then take action to remove or minimise bus lane obstructions, leading to increased bus lane efficiency.
- Preteckt: Analyses data collected by the bus telematics system to predict when maintenance is needed, helping to avoid service interruptions and unexpected downtime. The technology alerts transit operators to extreme conditions that could cause permanent damage to a vehicle or the engine. This predictive maintenance functionality could ensure better service for riders and save time and money in fleet management.
- Remix: Helps cities and agencies plan transit networks in real-time. It brings together the entire transportation picture, including public transit, streets and new mobility options, and allows planners to upload demographic information to help ensure populations are being served equally.
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