Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
New York City Transit is making an effort to step into the digital age. There's no GPS data on all buses like in Boston and San Francisco, but NYC does have a burgeoning tech scene with a ready supply of app developers. Now the MTA is luring them into making transit apps.
The MTA App Quest offers $15,000 in prizes to the best transit software applications that "improve the transit experience" for the region's 8.5 million riders (aka potential app users). Now that submissions are in, the MTA wants the riders to get in on dishing out those prize dollars.
Members of the public can vote on the 42 competing apps with about $3,000 of prize money dedicated to fan favorites. Apps range from quirky to clever to new age and newfangled.
Most, however, are aimed at a wider audience, and some tap the latest smartphone features. The NYC Station Finder app helps you find the nearest subway station -- not on a map, but with an augmented reality viewer. While standing on a street, hold up your phone in front of you to see through the camera. Nearby stations are superimposed on the "reality" before you (video here.) The TravAlarm NYC is an alarm clock that will factor in known train delays and wake you up earlier and suggest an alternate route if your subway line is running behind.
It's easy to imagine how even more sophisticated and useful apps will result once there is real time location data of trains and buses available to the developers. There's plenty of other data spewing out of the MTA for some unexpected applications. Ridership junkies (and transit reporters like our own Jim O'Grady) may find TurnStileData useful, which let's you see how many people pass through a given turnstile in a four hour period.
Transit apps have proven popular in past city contests. When New York City held its Big Apps competition for the best applications to use government data, Roadify took home the grand prize -- and other transportation apps scored well too. (Our review of that contest here.)
After a few hours of open voting--by no means long enough to indicate a leading contender for the Popular Choice Prizes in this MTA competition--the NYC Notify Me app had the early lead in votes. This app alerts you when there are service disruptions on your regular subway or commuter rail lines.
In addition to two riders' choice awards, the rest of the prize money will be doled by a panel of judges from city agencies, transit-friendly media outlets, and tech experts.
According to the MTA, there are "more than a dozen data sets available for the challenge, including General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) schedule data; current service status; real-time information for some bus lines; elevator/escalator status; turnstile and fare data; bridge and tunnel traffic data; and subway entrance GIS data." Real time bus data is available on two bus lines.
To cast your vote, go here. Voting is open for one month.
*A previous version of this article conflated TravAlarm NYC, part of the App Quest and TravAlarm, not part of the App Quest, which lets you snooze on the train by waking you up when you are about to get to your stop — not by GPS location, but by estimated time elapsed after factoring in where you entered and where you are going.