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Startups to Partner with NYC Agencies as Part of Transit Lab

Various transit agencies in the New York City area will partner with nine startups on the focus areas of accessibility, revenue generation and curb space management as part of the Transit Tech Lab.

Riders of the New York City Subway swipe their MetroCards at turnstiles.
A handful of transportation tech startups will get the chance to test and demonstrate their effectiveness in what is arguably the most transit-centric city in the country.

Nine companies have been selected to partner with New York City transit agencies in three primary focus areas: accessibility, revenue generation and curb management. The companies will operate under the banner of the Transit Tech Lab, an arm of the Transit Innovation Partnership, a public-private organization dedicated to forming a bridge between public transit agencies and private tech providers.

"We feel that New York is uniquely positioned to be the epicenter for these public-private innovative partnerships,” said Rachel Haot, executive director of the Transit Innovation Partnership. “Because of the size and scope of our system, and also the fact that we’re seeing in the mobility sector and the private sector an enormous amount of investment. And a lot of technologies have not yet made their way here, and so we’re excited to implement them in the public sector.” 

The nine companies selected for the Transit Tech Lab are Acoustic Protocol, NaviLens, Okeenea, Knaq, Allvision IO, CARMERA, curbFlow, Numina and Miles. Some 130 companies applied.

The companies will collaborate with the transit agencies during an eight-week program, largely as part of product demonstration and application. Once proof of concept has been established, formal pilots will be formed with one or more of the transit agencies. Last year, the project had four companies move on to the pilot phase. 

Participating agencies include not only the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which operates the New York City Subway and bus routes, but also New York City Department of Transportation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak and NJ Transit.

“We started by asking the transit agencies in the area what their highest priority challenges are for this year and for the coming years, and accessibility very quickly emerged as a high priority and an area of focus for all of them,” said Haot, explaining the need for companies like Acoustic Protocol or Knaq, which focus on technology to aid hearing-impaired users or transit users with mobility challenges.

“There’s a lot of different groups that rely heavily on the public transit system,” said Haot. “The ability to use public transportation is not only empowering, but it’s something they deserve as a resident of the city. And so we want to make sure that the system serves all people.”

Another hot topic for transit, and in cities in general, is curb space management, given the increasing interactions happening at the curbside, ranging from passenger drop-offs, deliveries or serving users like cyclists.

“Curb coordination is of great interest to urban planners, to mobility experts, and obviously this is the result of so many different converging trends, including the rise of e-commerce, the expansion of for-hire vehicles and ride-share, the implementation of bus and bike lanes,” said Haot. “And the results of all of these converging trends has been that there is chaos at the curb. And what we want to do is identify and work with the companies that are working to solve this problem.”

Companies like curbFlow have already been working with cities to better manage deliveries as well as ride-hailing drop-offs in designated zones. The company conducted a pilot project in Washington, D.C., and has another ongoing project in Columbus, Ohio.

The changing urban landscape with travel patterns and routes interrupted and shifted by construction projects or other disruptions is where a company like CARMERA, a mapping technology company, comes into service. CARMERA creates high-definition maps that are kept up to date in near-real time, providing up-to-the-minute construction data that can affect parking and lane changes. 

Working hand-in-hand with the public sector is seen as essential to the CARMERA mission, say officials.

“We feel like we’ve found the best and highest use of our data through the commercial autonomous vehicle market, but we don’t want it to be just sit on the shelf and not have the opportunity to really have an outsize impact on urban society,” said Jessie Lazarus, vice president of business development at CARMERA, in an interview with Government Technology in October last year.

These maps can give policymakers “more information and tools in their toolkit,” she added.

“I think this is good for everybody," she said. "And I think it is good for the entire transportation system. It helps us think about city planning more thoughtfully.”

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 Yreka, Calif.