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NYC Transit Tech Lab Names COVID-19 Response Challenge Winners

Three companies have been selected for one-year pilot projects with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products and services in the transit arena.

MTA Subway
Innovative approaches to keeping transit vehicles clean, technology to monitor the capacity of buses and trains, and even foldable bikes and scooters were all singled out for partnerships with New York City transit providers.

The Transit Tech Lab, an accelerator program for public transportation solutions, has selected three companies as winners for its COVID-19 Response Challenge. The winners will begin one-year pilots with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to implement their technologies and services, with a focus on pandemic response and keeping riders and operators safe.

CitySwift provides technology to monitor and predict capacity levels for buses and trains. Kinnos makes a colored cleaning powder that dissolves into liquid bleach. And Brooklyn-based Beyond provides foldable e-bikes and scooters that can be carried easily on buses and trains.

“While these solutions are especially relevant in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the products offer opportunities to build a safer, more responsive public transit system for all,” said Natalia Quintero, founding director of the Transit Tech Lab, a public-private initiative formed by the MTA and Partnership for New York City.

The challenge, launched in response to the pandemic, received more than 200 submissions. Eight finalist companies were selected for an eight-week, proof-of-concept period, and only three companies were selected as winners.

Winners for the challenge were selected based on four criteria: impact on public transit, the type of product tested and made available, the qualifications and financial integrity of the company and value, or how the technology “presents a new way of deriving more value from existing transit agency assets,” said Quintero.

Kinnos, based in Brooklyn, launched its Highlight cleaning powder in response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, explained Rachael Sparks, vice president for marketing.

“Because all disinfectants are transparent, users can miss spots and never know it,” said Sparks. “So colorizing the bleach would give these workers a confirmation of coverage,” Sparks added.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey measured a 63 percent improvement in disinfection rates using the product.

Beyond, another Brooklyn startup, was formed in 2015. The company provides a subscription service for foldable e-bikes and scooters, making the devices easy to carry onto trains or buses, increasing their compatibility with transit.

“Although you are bringing something in [to transit], you are not bringing something in that is an object that is bigger than a traditional baby stroller, or something else that people are really used to,” said Manuel Saez, CEO of Beyond.

“At the same time, it’s also able to perform as a vehicle on it’s own,” he added.

The Beyond business model focuses on addressing that gap between the home and transit station. The devices also allow transit riders to park farther away from a train station and still get to the platform quickly.

The company's focus has always been on the opportunities “microvehicles” can play in reducing car trips, and reducing the number of vehicles on roadways.

“From the beginning, our thinking has always been, how can we make our vehicles in a way that they can easily integrate with public transit,” said Saez.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.


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