Governor Cuomo and the MTA announce a competition to fix the NYC subway system

May 24, 2017

Image via Alan Bloom/Flickr

Seeking innovative solutions to fix the mess that is the New York City transit system, Governor Cuomo on Tuesday launched a competition called the “MTA Genius Transit Challenge.” Just one of the governor’s recently proposed ideas to fix the subway, the international competition challenges participants to develop ideas for better signaling, new car designs, and WiFi throughout the system, including in tunnels. The winner of each category will receive $1 million and a possible contract deal with the state. In addition to the challenge, Cuomo announced he has created a Penn Station Task Force to devise alternative transportation solutions during Amtrak’s track work at the station this summer.

MTA, Governor Cuomo, Subway
Courtesy of the governor’s office

Participants of the challenge must figure out how to accommodate the growing number of straphangers, with subway ridership reaching nearly six million people per day, according to the governor’s office. The categories of the competition include improving and modernizing the signal system, which was designed over 100 years ago, to increase the number of trains during peak times. Participants also must develop ways to bring better subway cars to the system quicker. Since it takes three years to build a new car currently, finding ways to build more subways faster or refurbish existing cars more effectively will be a big part of the competition. Finally, the competition seeks a way to connect the entire system with WiFi, even throughout tunnels, whose narrow structure makes it difficult to do so.

“With the launch of this MTA Genius Transit Challenge, we will draw some of the greatest minds from across the globe to the Empire State to help inspire forward-thinking, innovative ideas that will usher in a new era of mass transit for New York that ensures the safety and efficiency of travelers today and tomorrow,” Cuomo said.

A panel made up of engineers and transit experts, as well as representatives from the city and the surrounding region, will judge the competition and award the $3 million to the winners. The state hopes the competition will “harness the innovative capacity of outside experts who will team together to combine new perspectives, skills and technical understanding wholly separate from the work presently underway.”

Along with this competition, the governor released a series of ideas to fix Penn Station ahead of Amtrak’s renovations this July and August, some of which he laid out earlier this week in a letter to President Trump. These include having New York State or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey take over operations at Penn Station, or preferably, Amtrak could turn over the station to a private operator.

The governor’s Penn Station Task Force is made up of transportation experts and stakeholders who are responsible for developing alternative transportation methods during Amtrak’s service cuts this summer. Notably, two of the task force’s members, Richard LeFrak of LeFrak and Steve Roth of Vornado Realty Trust, were hired by President Trump to oversee the administration’s infrastructure council earlier this year.

After remaining quiet over the MTA’s failures, Cuomo, who oversees the agency, received criticism from transit advocates and public officials like Mayor de Blasio, who said the governor should “just own up to” being in charge of the subway system. However, after launching a series of actions to fix the system, advocates cheered Cuomo’s proposals.

John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, told the New York Times, “Governor Cuomo is taking a vital step, which is to declare that it’s squarely his responsibility to fix the subway. The next question is: What is the actual plan, and where will the governor find the money to pay for it?”

Find more information about the competition and how to participate, here.


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