NYU-Poly “Hacks” the MTA

On May 4-5, in a collaborative effort between Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), ChallengePost, AT&T and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, 16 teams set out in a mad rush to improve the transit system for the raised hands and the 8 million riders who interact with the MTA on a daily basis. The App Quest Hackathon kicked off Saturday morning at 6 MetroTech Center. Participants were charged with designing a smartphone app using the MTA’s public data and application programming interfaces (APIs). Teams worked around the clock to develop innovations that would improve the commuting experience.  AT&T provided prize money for the apps that best tackled the task. A total of $10,000 ($5,000 for first; $3,000 for second; and $2,000 for third) was awarded after a grueling 30 hours had passed.  All the participants have the chance to further develop their apps in the coming months in the global competition for a chance at $40,000 in prizes.

Before announcing the grand prize winner, Craig Stewart, Senior Corporate Management Officer of MTA New York City Transit and event judge, addressed the roomful of competition participants:

“On behalf of the MTA and AT&T, I want to thank you for your time and your imagination and all the effort you put into improving the customer experience. Who better to do it than our riders?”

On minimal sleep, all the teams --made up of NYU-Poly students, seasoned design professionals and everyone in-between—trotted on stage to give three minute presentations followed by a potential two minutes of questioning by the judges. The varied team app concepts featured real-time train and bus tracking, trip-cost analysis, customizable alert systems and more. Evident in this competition and all of the presentations was a sincere interest in solving issues to improve the transit system for everyone. The added bonus is real-world experience in a competition format that is thriving.

“This gives NYU-Poly students a chance to be in the same room and working on exactly the same things as the people who do this for a living,” said Luke DuBois, Assistant Professor and Director of NYU-Poly’s Integrated Digital Media program, and one of the event’s coordinators. “Hackathons, from the outside, seem a little gimmicky but, in fact, they’re growing in credibility as a way to highlight small, independent development teams. You’re earning your chops.”

Grand prize winner, Team SubCulture FM, designed an app that bridges the gap between artists that perform in the subway stations and commuters. Scanning a QR code allows commuters to learn more about or even get in touch with MTA-endorsed performers.

““It’s not just another subway app. It’s something you can interact with,” said Ozlem Gul, professional software developer who contributed to the first-place team.

Bringing home second place for NYU-Poly was Team MTA Sheriff. They created an app in which the user is able to report unfavorable subway conditions in the stations and on the platforms they visit. Users earn their way up the “ranks” to sheriff as they also help the MTA monitor and remedy the snags in transportation system.

Third place winners, Team AccessWay, sought out to help the visually impaired and disabled better navigate the subway system with an app that speaks. Users can find out where the nearest and most convenient exits are located, their position in relation to them, whether trains have been rerouted and other information that has been difficult for them to access previously.

“There are so many things involved in keeping the transit system in New York City working,” said DuBois. “As much as we love to complain about the MTA and the subway, it’s actually a phenomenal undertaking that it works at all….the MTA actually works for us. This challenge is about giving a little bit of something back.”

Congratulations to all the participants and event staff for an amazing kickoff to the Quest. Keep an eye out for these and other apps as the App Quest continues at mta.info/apps.