Home MTA Technology ‘There’s a transit app contest for that’

‘There’s a transit app contest for that’

by Benjamin Kabak

Subway map via iPad? There's already an app for that. (Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Cashin)

After announcing an app development contest yesterday with a grand prize of $5000, the MTA and ChallengePost hope that there’s going to be an app for that soon. With the goal of challenging programmers and developers to create apps that increase access to information and improve the travel experience for New York’s 8.5 million daily bus and subway riders, the authority announced yesterday a mobile app contest, and I, along with eight others, will be one of the judges.

“Over the past two years, we’ve made more and more information available to app developers, and we’re thrilled that they’re taking this information and using it to benefit our customers,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder said in a statement. “Now, through this competition, we are taking the next step to engage with the app developer community to encourage the creation of even more useful apps.”

The idea is a simple one: Between now and September 26, developers are invited to submit their apps at MTAAppQuest.com. The panel of judges — leaders in the online, digital development and transit fields — will judge them from Oct. 3 through Oct. 26, and the public will have a chance to vote on their favorites as well. The winners will be announced on Nov. 1, and the Grand Prize includes $5000, paid by ChallengePost, and a custom five-foot subway sign from Underground Signs. The second and third place entries will also receive prizes, and ChallengePost will name five honorable mentions and two popular choice winners.

Joining me in the judges booth will be a cross-section of folks from across the digital sphere. Take a look:

  • Jen Chung, Executive Editor, Gothamist, and Co-Founder, Gothamist LLC
  • Jeff Ferzoco, Creative and Technology Director, Regional Plan Association
  • Stephen Goldsmith, Deputy Mayor for Operations, City of New York
  • Mark Gorton, Founder and Chairman, OpenPlans and Founder, Tower Research Capital LLC
  • Wael Hibri, Chief Enterprise Information Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Noel Hidalgo, Director of Engagement Technologies, World Economic Forum
  • Lawrence Levy, Executive Dean, National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University
  • Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer, City of New York

In conjunction with the contest, the MTA has also released new datasets for developers with more to come by July 21. The new sets include location-based data on subway platforms, turnstiles, elevators and the remaining station booths; historical data showing times and locations of the 4, 5 and 6 trains; and performance data for all MTA agencies for the past three years.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about the potential for this contest. Already, the MTA’s App Center features over 30 transit-related packages, and with the potential for more, the missing bits of information that the MTA doesn’t supply can be provided by entrepreneurial developers. I’ll have more about the contest as it elapses, but in the meantime, get those apps started. [MTA App Quest]

You may also like


BoerumHillScott July 12, 2011 - 2:08 pm

I wish that the same levels of effort could go into making this information available via the web, so people who do not own specific devices could use it was well.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:02 pm

Agreed. Everyone has access to the web, if not at home then at least in public settings like libraries. Most New Yorkers don’t have access to iPads.

John Paul N. July 15, 2011 - 1:56 am

From an independent developer’s standpoint, the biggest obstacle for a web app (apart from conceiving an idea and design) is the app’s marketing and promotion. Now that the MTA has an App Center, a potential user’s discovery for (noteworthy) apps is easier, but without it, the road for recognition is through traditional marketing with a non-trivial cost (i.e. the paid ads on this blog), search engine optimization that may bite you if you’re too aggressive (see J.C. Penney vs. Google), or through contests that may happen once in a blue moon, among the options. Of course, if you built a brand and/or loyalty, your success will be all but guaranteed. But I doubt I’m at that level now.

Furthermore, I have to consider whether it’s worth it to personally host the data. For this site, it’s a developer’s dream: little hosting costs for him.

Michael E. Gruen July 12, 2011 - 3:46 pm

What app would you like most to see, Ben?

Christopher Stephens July 12, 2011 - 9:25 pm

Looking at that list of judges, I am reminded of my disgust that Bloomberg is spending nearly 200K on a twenty-something “Chief Digital Officer” while at the same time cutting back on teachers, libraries, etc. Sigh.

John Paul N. July 15, 2011 - 2:35 am

If the next mayoral administration deems the position unnecessary (ahem, Mr. “I’ll-rip-out-the-bike-lanes” Weiner before he was disgraced), the position may truly be a waste of money.

She may have a part in bringing new data sets for the next NYC BigApps, if there is another one, so I’ll see what happens on that front. And overseeing the city’s governmental presence in Twitter, Facebook, etc. may not be as easy as one thinks. The city has invested too much in self-marketing (in this administration) that to have it be ruined by the Andrew Breitbarts of the world would be shameful.

kevin July 13, 2011 - 5:45 pm

What’s the point of using all this data when half of it is wrong? Has anyone tried using Trip Planner lately? The arrival/departure times are never correct.

I really wish this stuff would work, it would be amazing, but it just doesn’t. Sorry, MTA.

Also I agree with Christopher there, what the hell does a Chief Digital Officer do? Can you get any more buzzwordy? Is she working on synergizing our social networking strategies for online consumption?!

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 9:52 pm

Never correct? You mean that the schedules programmed into the Trip Planner don’t correspond to the actual schedules in effect? Or do you mean that the trains don’t always adhere perfectly to the schedule?

John Paul N. July 15, 2011 - 2:23 am

I am undecided as to whether I will participate in this contest. I am grateful to have been included in the last NYC BigApps contest (in which Roadify won many times over, as they deserved it). But for this one, there are two reasons for my hesitation.

1) While the new data sets are certainly interesting, at this moment I can’t think of a good way to incorporate the new data, through my existing app or a new one. (If only I can remember this one time at Transportation Camp…) It was just announced a few days ago, but if I want to get started I really should do it very soon. I’m also woefully behind on updates to my existing app, beyond the testing phase, and that must be my priority.

2) I hate the video requirement. Never mind that the rules for this contest are almost a carbon copy of the NYC BigApps rules, but I particularly find the video annoying. I understand that it should give people the ability to see the app in action if they are unable to use it themselves. But it’s an additional requirement that, in my opinion, should have no bearing on judging the quality of an app.

So unless I get an idea (or someone suggests it to me), I may sit this one out.

Urban Omnibus » The Omnibus Roundup – Printed Solar, Pop-Up Chapel, MTA, Public Summer, Aerialist Antics and Brooklyn Breweries July 15, 2011 - 1:29 pm

[…] MTA APP CHALLENGE: Want to improve your subway ride in a meaningful way? The MTA and Challengepost have just announced a new competition for programmers and designers to create apps that improve travel experience and give the public more and easier access to information. The submission period ends September 24th, so check out MTAAppQuest.com for more information about the competition, or read more of the coverage at 2nd Ave. Sagas. […]

MTA AppQuest voting opens with 42 submissions :: Second Ave. Sagas December 5, 2011 - 3:40 pm

[…] five months after first announcing the MTA AppQuest challenge and after a few unavoidable delays, a group of new transit apps are ready to face the public. The […]

Comment devenir une ville intelligente ? January 27, 2012 - 11:13 am

[…] gagnants seront annoncés fin mars 2012. Il reste également quelque jours encore pour voter dans le concours d’applications mobiles pour les transports publics lancé par les autorités de transports de New York (MTA) grâce aux données rendues […]


Leave a Comment