App Development Takes Center Stage

Nearly a hundred app developers gathered during the weekend of May 4-5 for an intensive weekend-long collaboration/competition that resulted in the creation of 17 concepts for apps to help MTA riders. It was the first “hackathon,” a group setting where interplay of ideas spurs creativity and innovation, to be officially sanctioned by the MTA.  

The hackathon was held as part of App Quest, a best apps competition that will run through August. It's being sponsored by AT&T and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), cosponsored the MTA, and powered by ChallengePost. 
After building their concepts over the course of a 30-hour overnight work session, these teams were awarded prizes for generating the hackathon’s “Best Overall App.” 
  • Grand Prize ($5,000) was awarded to SubCulture.FM, which would allow MTA customers to identify their favorite subway musicians that perform in the NYC subway area, locate them, and buy their singles. Featured subway performers can sign up and be assigned a unique QR code that will be linked to downloadable links to their music. 
  • Second Prize ($3,000) was awarded to MTA Sheriff, an app that would allow subway riders to submit and view reports about current subway conditions and concerns.
  • Third Prize ($2,000) was awarded to Accessway, a mobile way-finding app that would help visually-impaired or wheelchair-assisted individuals navigate the subway. The app incorporates text-to-speech technology and pulls real-time service status updates from MTA timetables.
The winners – as well as all of the hackathon participants – can take their initial concepts forward to the overall App Quest global challenge, which is open to app developers from around the world, and will award a total of $40,000 in prizes. Final submissions are due on August 20, 2013.
“With subway riders having greater access to wireless connectivity below ground, and with the availability of new real-time data from the MTA, this is a critical moment for the creation of new apps for MTA riders,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “We are delighted that NYU-Poly, the MTA, AT&T and ChallengePost have been able to come together to reinforce what we are seeking to do with the statewide #OpenNY initiative to make State government data more open, more accessible, and more transparent.”
“We are delighted by the level of enthusiasm that the app development community has brought to help our customers better use our system,” said Tom Prendergast, MTA Interim Executive Director, who has been nominated by Governor Cuomo to serve as MTA Chairman and CEO. “App developers have already proven themselves to be creative, engaged, and energetic. We’re looking forward to seeing what they will come up with this weekend.”
“It was inspiring to see so many talented teams turn out for this weekend’s hackathon and put forth ideas that have the potential to transform the transit experience for millions of riders every day,” said Marissa Shorenstein, President of AT&T New York. “AT&T congratulates Subculture.FM for their winning idea. We can’t wait to see how they and other developers build on their ideas over the summer as we continue to search for the next great transit apps during the MTA and AT&T AppQuest Challenge. With the expansion of underground wireless comes the opportunity to develop new technologies to help improve the daily commute for millions of transit riders. AT&T is excited to be at the forefront of this effort with the MTA to spur the development of these innovations and leverage the power of mobile communications to make riding the rails an even better experience.”  
“NYU-Poly is excited to be the educational partner in this hackathon that promises to benefit transit riders throughout the city,” said NYU-Poly President Katepalli Sreenivasan. “It will allow our students to interact with New York’s innovative developer community while challenging them to employ their knowledge from our Integrated Digital Media and engineering programs to produce creative apps worthy of commercialization.”
Brandon Kessler, ChallengePost CEO, said: “There is so much benefit to be had from improving rider experience through great software. It's inspiring to see MTA and AT&T take a lead role in working with developers for this global software competition and in-person hackathon.”
The final version of the apps will be made available to the public through the App Quest website and through the usual app channels including Google Play and the iTunes App Store. Those apps will also be showcased in the MTA’s app gallery on Prize money is being provided by AT&T.
General Assembly, a network of campuses that transforms thinkers into creators through our classes, workshops, and long-form courses in technology, business, and design, has agreed to send instructors to provide support and technical assistance to the teams as they make their final presentations. NYU-Poly’s Department of Technology, Culture and Society and its Integrated Digital Media program are providing event support.
The competition is the MTA’s second App Quest. The first MTA App Quest, held from July 2011 to February 2012, received 42 MTA-related app entries. The top winners of that competition were Embark NYC, Free NYC Subway Locator and Notify Me NYC.  
Since the last App Quest challenge was held, technological innovation has expanded the availability of digital data:
  • On Friday, April 25, Transit Wireless activated wireless service at 30 underground subway stations in Manhattan and announced that the next 40 stations to receive wireless service, in Midtown and Queens, are expected online in the first quarter of 2014. 
  • In December 2012, the MTA released real-time data showing train arrival estimates at the 156 stations served by the 1 Subway2 Subway3 Subway4 Subway5 Subway6 Subway subway lines and S Subway 42nd Street Shuttle. This dynamic data, which is held in the MTA’s cloud-hosted GTFS-Real Time Feed, essentially make “countdown clock” information available via web and app
  • In November 2012, MTA Bus Time™ expanded to the Bronx, bringing real-time bus location data to 54 bus routes and 3,355 stops.
  • On March 27, Google added MTA real-time data to Google maps.
A first rate panel of seven tech-savvy, transportation-savvy judges selected the hackathon winners:
  • Matt Brimer, General Assembly Co-Founder 
  • Rachael Haot, Chief Digital Officer, City of New York
  • Todd Haselton, Executive Director of Mobile, TechnoBuffalo
  • Brian Malkerson, NYC Seed, Principle 
  • Marissa Shorenstein, President of AT&T New York
  • Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer, Columbia University
  • Craig Stewart, Senior Corporate Management Officer, MTA New York City Transit


App Winners
Three winning teams
App development underway
App development underway
App development underway
App development underway
App development underway
App development underway