New York Contest Aims to Improve Transit Experience

Justin Houk
Jul. 18 2011, 03:00PM EDT

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York State (MTA) recently announced a new apps contest called MTA App Quest. The contest is designed to promote apps that cover a much broader system than just New York City and spark interest around the MTA API and newly released datasets. The MTA App Quest is the latest chapter in the MTA's transformation from a relatively closed agency to one that is embracing open transit data.

The contest will award $15,000 in total cash prizes that have been contributed by the event co-sponsor ChallengePost. ChallengePost is also powering the contest website with their web platform for crowd-sourced problem solving.

MTA Challengpost Banner

The MTA App Quest is part of an ongoing effort to engage developers and provide better information to MTA riders. In April 2010 MTA worked with Google to host the first ever transit developer unconference in NYC.  "The hope is to energize and encourage talent to create apps that help people get around New York." said Ernest Tollerson, MTA's Directory of Environmental Sustainability and Compliance. The MTA is also trying to stretch it's resources.  "The contest is about trying to do more with less and letting the public choose which problems are important to solve." said Brandon Kessler, CEO of ChallengePost.

The scope of the MTA system is mind boggling and should provide fertile ground for the imaginations of developers. MTA covers 12 counties in New York State and 2 counties in Connecticut. That includes New York City subways and buses as well as numerous other regional lines, bridges, and tunnels. In all the MTA sees 8.5 million daily riders. MTA collects and creates geographic and real-time data for all of this system and has made much of it available to developers.

Number 7 Subway Line

A major trigger for the contest was the release of a number of new high value datasets.  The data includes historic data, real-time feeds, and geographic datasets:

  • Historical data showing times and locations of train movements on the 4, 5, and 6 subway lines.
  • Location Data of resources inside subway stations such as platforms, elevators, turnstiles, and station agent booths
  • Geographic data for bus routs
  • Real-time road conditions from MTA bridges and Tunnels
  • Locations of outside retailers who sell E-Zpasses
  • Performance data for all MTA Agencies from 2008 to present including on-time performance, ridership, mean distance between failures, elevator and escalator availability, and injury rates.

The past two years have been a significant turn around for the MTA, that was once the largest transit agency without open data. In 2009 the MTA sent a DMCA takedown notice to Chris Schoenfield for scraping transit schedules for his mobile bus app.  By launching the MTA App Quest the organization has come full circle to embrace developers like Chris that wish to create value for people trying to get around in New York.  In some ways this new openness has created an even larger appetite for data, but the discussion has certainly moved forward from the one taking place in 2009.

The MTA App Quest is an "open style" contest and the main requirement is that developers must use at least one MTA dataset. Apps that have been previously released must incorporate a new dataset. The contest resource page gives some examples of apps but clearly states that coding an app from the list doesn't do anything for your chances of winning.  Contestants must sign up on the contest website and have until September 23, 2011 to submit their apps.

Photo: Kriston Lewis

Justin Houk

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