Crowdsourcing Transit Apps for an Improved Travel Experience

Published Apr-04-16

A novel app that alerts disabled riders of metro arrivals without them having to take out their phones was just one of the innovative winners of a global crowdsourcing contest.

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), United States

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Transit Apps for an Improved Travel Experience With advancements in digital technology, everybody is now free to help companies and organizations to innovate. Vast reams of their data that might otherwise lie dormant can be used as the basis for novel apps and services.

Crowdsourcing is one strategy that is being adopted to enlist the brainpower of others to turn this data into applications that help people. In an era of tight budgets, organizations need all the help they can get, and working with the crowd is a cost-effective way of achieving innovation goals.

Crowdsourcing Transit Contest

In November 2014, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) launched its App Quest 3.0 contest, challenging the crowd to use MTA’s broad set of data and APIs to create apps that will make the transit experience better.

During a four-month period, participants from all over the world worked on technologies that used real-time MTA data. A total of forty three teams from ten countries submitted their apps, which were adjudicated by a panel of experts in digital, transit and technology. They selected eight teams to win prizes. Among them were:

The Grand Prize: Best Accessibility App for Disabled MTA Customers and a check for $10,000 was awarded to Yo Train! The app uses a voice alert to notify riders of when the next train will arrive. It does this when they are within half a block of the station and even when a phone is locked. This saves users the hassle of retrieving a phone from their pocket, unlocking it and searching for and opening a transit app. As the developers of Yo Train! say: with their app: "you will know before you go below".

The Grand Prize: Best Consumer/Transit Rider App and a check for $7,500 went to Departures NYC. This nifty app allows users to find nearby bus stops and departure times. All they have to do is to point and move their iPhone toward their desired direction and a virtual view of the nearest bus stops and bus departure times appear.

The Popular Choice award and a check for $5,000 was given to 1-Touch NYC. This app utilizes near field communication (NFC) and QR codes to provide users with real-time transit information. Riders touch a smart poster with their iPhone to receive such useful facts as when the next metro is due into the subway station and bike availability at bike-sharing stations.

Upon announcement of the winners, Thomas F. Prendergast, MTA Chairman and CEO, said:
"We are delighted that so many talented and enthusiastic tech teams dedicated their energies toward helping our customers. Apps offer a very exciting and powerful potential to assist our customers and improve their experiences with us, and we want to encourage the development of great apps."

Crowd Benefits

The MTA also develops and releases its own apps, but in turning to the crowd it is able to access a broader range of ideas, and potentially speed up their development and implementation.

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