The future of New York City post-pandemic will only go as far as public transportation is available, and riders will feel safe before returning. As such, the private technology sector is focused on supporting safer transportation networks, and in the process establishing models for addressing other public challenges.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the New York City Subway was carrying 5.5 million passengers a day. Fast-forward to his two pandemic-hit years, and passengers continue to hesitate to re-establish subway and bus transportation. While we are beginning to see a modest uptick, concerns over personal safety and security have emerged as the biggest barriers to transportation revival.
The result is fewer people returning to the office, less economic activity in the once-bustling city center business district, and ultimately the loss of local businesses traditionally dependent on a flood of office workers. I am struggling.
It also means that more people will drive instead of taking the subway or bus, causing more cars on the roads, leading to congestion, pollution and reduced productivity.
In a recent survey, 74% of New York City office workers cited personal safety as the number one obstacle to returning to the office. Governor Hochul, Mayor Adams, and Police Commissioner Sewell have developed important measures to address rising crime and its root causes. The private sector is doing just as well, with technology companies providing innovative solutions to support public safety on public transit in a traditional New York fashion.
Earlier this year, the Transit Tech Lab, a public-private initiative between the New York City Partnership and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, launched the COVID-19 Recovery Challenge, asking the global technology community to help restore trust across the region’s transportation network. I called. Ten startups, selected from nearly 150 applicants worldwide, presented and piloted their solutions to transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.
Technologies range from machine learning and computer vision to 3D LiDAR hardware and have demonstrated capabilities ranging from detecting truck intrusions and toll avoidance to identifying instances of risky behavior. These solutions are a compelling resource for transit agencies working to make transportation networks safer.
Lab’s model has proven effective in past crises. With subways shut down overnight to sanitize systems during a pandemic, her lab graduate, Axon Vibe, is working with Essential to redesign bus routes so his workers can plan their trips. Digital quickly created his platform. As customers increasingly rely on their mobile devices, Lab, MTA and design firm Work & Co have developed the world’s first live subway map. This map shows train locations and when planned and unplanned service changes occur.
As the region seeks to recover and restore trust, government agencies need more opportunities to tap into the expertise and innovation of the global tech community. Technology companies are often more agile and adaptable than other industries, anticipating needs and providing solutions to public problems. The lab has helped one of the world’s largest regional transit agencies leverage technology to improve punctuality and enhance the customer experience. It serves as a blueprint for other public institutions looking for innovative ways to adapt to the post-COVID world.
Stacey Matren is Vice President of Innovation for New York City Partnerships.