NYC-area transit agencies seek ways to restore ridership post-Covid

February 1, 2022

Image courtesy of Patrick Cashin / MTA New York City Transit

New York City-area transit agencies are looking for ways to restore public transit ridership to the levels they were before the pandemic. The MTA, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit, the city’s Department of Transportation, and the Partnership for NYC announced on Monday the fourth round of the Transit Tech Lab, a program that aims to find solutions to problems facing the city’s public transportation system. The agencies put forth two challenges; the first is a solution to help the public transit system recover from Covid-19 and restore its ridership to pre-pandemic levels. The second is a sustainability challenge, looking for innovations that will better prepare the transit system against extreme weather conditions while leaving less of a carbon footprint.

Since March 2020, ridership across the city’s public transit system has taken a significant hit. It has been gradually recovering but is still far from pre-pandemic levels. According to data compiled by the MTA that tracked subway ridership from January 21 to January 30, the highest point ridership reached was 1,585,201, just 60.8 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

The recovery challenge requires the use of technologies or other approaches that will make transit better equipped to meet the needs of New Yorkers while keeping both transit employers and riders feeling safe. Examples of optimal technologies include:

  • Real-time regional data tools that provide insights on new travel patterns
  • Tools that streamline crew scheduling to ensure optimal staffing across operations
  • Enhancements to OMNY, the MTA’s successful contactless payment system, to improve the customer experience
  • Technologies that improve safety and deter adverse events including employee assaults and track intrusions

The sustainability challenge calls upon companies to help the transit system become more resilient against extreme weather while reducing its carbon footprint. Examples of needed contributions include:

  • Real-time asset tracking tools to prevent system failures, reduce operational costs, and improve energy efficiencies
  • New technologies to improve Electric Vehicle (EV) bus range, increase battery performance, develop EV charging infrastructure, and rapidly deploy zero-emissions buses and locomotives
  • Tools to support clean and efficient urban freight deliveries
  • Climate resiliency innovations to protect transit assets from flooding during coastal events and severe rainstorms
  • New techniques to allow customers to report extreme conditions in real-time

“We look forward to working closely with the tech community to help restore rider confidence and create a greener regional transportation network,” Natalia Quintero, senior vice president of innovation at the Partnership for New York City, said.

“This is a great opportunity for growth-stage companies to test their solutions in a system that serves as the economic backbone of the tri-state area. We’re thankful to our partners at the MTA, Port Authority, NJ Transit and NYC DOT for their commitment to leveraging tech as we bring riders back and tackle the adverse impacts of climate change.”

The Transit Tech Lab is part of the Transit Innovation Partnership, a public-private initiative created in 2018 by the MTA and Partnership for New York City to make New York City the global leader in public transit. In 2020, the partnership led to the MTA’s first live subway map with real-time service updates.

Since its creation in 2018, the Transit Tech Lab has made important contributions to improving the city’s public transit system, including the award-winning MTA Live Subway Map.

More information on the challenge can be found at Applications are due on March 25.


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