Management & Operations

N.Y. MTA moves into 21st century with strong focus on tech, rolling stock

Posted on January 20, 2016

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

By Charles Seaton, MTA New York City Transit, Director Marketing

Surrounded by artifacts from New York’s transit past, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman & CEO Thomas F. Prendergast offered a bold, new vision for the agency’s immediate future. The presentation featured an outline of a series of sweeping changes that promise to improve the commuting experiences of millions of subway, bus and commuter rail customers by bringing the agency into the digital age, improving security initiatives, and accelerating the pace and improving the scope of station improvements.

The New York Transit Museum was a fitting backdrop for the event, serving as an effective counterpoint to the display of plans that will propel the MTA into the future with digital technology featured in all new railcars, buses and redeveloped stations. “The MTA is absolutely vital to the daily functioning of New York City, but for too long it has failed to meet the region’s growing size and strength,” Gov. Cuomo said. “This is about doing more than just repair and maintain — this is thinking bigger and better and building the 21st century transit system New Yorkers deserve. We are modernizing the MTA like never before and improving it for years to come.”

MTA Chairman/CEO Thomas Prendergast
MTA Chairman/CEO Thomas Prendergast

The proposal for the future of the MTA included a new approach to station renewals, beginning with the rapid redesign and improvement of 30 subway stations across the system. But the most exciting part is the number of technology initiatives aimed at bringing the system into the 21st century, including expanding the creation of Wi-Fi hotspots in stations; accelerating mobile payment and ticketing to replace the MetroCard; and providing USB ports on subway trains and buses, offering customers the ability to charge their mobile devices while on the go.

“We are committed to meeting Gov. Cuomo’s challenge head-on, eliminating every possible inefficiency to deliver these improvements faster, better and at a lower cost,” said MTA Chairman/CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “We’ll accomplish this by incorporating the Governor’s suggestions to use alternative delivery methods such as design-build, leveraging private-sector expertise through public-private partnerships and streamlining our procurement processes to ensure the entire MTA is focused on delivering improvements to the people who rely on us every day.”

Transformative approach to station redevelopments

As part of the effort to bring the look of century-old stations into the future, the MTA will revamp the design guidelines for subway stations to improve their appearance and feel, then put them in place at 30 stations across the system. Once work is completed, these stations will be cleaner, brighter and easier to navigate, with a modernized look.

“The old way of doing business at the MTA is over and we’ll start first at the front door to our system — the stations. That’s where riders get the first impression of our system and where they start their day. We’re rethinking station improvements from the bottom up everything from design to the way we get the work done to the way customers pay their fares and navigate the system,” Prendergast added. “Today’s stations do not provide the amenities or comfort features that they need to provide. But these are things that our customers expect and deserve.”

The MTA will use design-build procurement procedures to deliver the projects more quickly, at a lower cost and with better quality. Employing this method means that a single contractor will be responsible for cost, schedule and performance. During construction, stations will be closed to give contractors unconstrained access with a singular focus — get in, get done and get out. Similar improvements will benefit customers who use the Richmond Valley station on the Staten Island Railway. The entirely new Arthur Kill station opening later this year will also feature many of these elements. These new processes and innovations will guide future improvements to stations on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad as well.

Work on the majority New York City Transit’s 30 targeted stations will be completed by 2018, and all will be finished by 2020, with timeframe for complete redevelopments being reduced by more than 50%. On average, station redevelopments are expected to take between six and 12 months. Under the previous approach where projects relied on night and weekend closures and could take two to three years, or more, to be completed.

Embracing the digital future

new fare payment technology.
new fare payment technology.

Innovation is a major focus of the Governor’s proposal, focusing on accelerated deployment of modern technology throughout the MTA system. While more than 140 underground subway stations already have cellphone, data and Wi-Fi service, the deployment of this enormously popular amenity will now be accelerated. All 277 underground subway stations will have Wi-Fi service by the end of this year and cellphone service will be available in all of them early in 2017.

Innovative when initially introduced more than two decades ago, this is the beginning of the end of the agency’s MetroCard. The process of bringing mobile payment methods to subways and buses will be accelerated, allowing riders to pay their fares by waving a cellphone, a bank card or another payment device over contactless readers. Modernizing the payment process will allow customers to board buses and pass through turnstiles more quickly, as well as manage the value in their accounts online instead of on physical cards that can be lost or damaged. Subways and buses will start using contactless payment methods in 2018.

The MTA will begin offering mobile ticketing on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad within six months and fully introduce it by the end of the year, giving railroad customers the same ability to buy tickets on their mobile devices. Railroad customers who also ride subways and buses will be able to pay their fares using a single app and a single transit account starting next year.

Countdown clocks, real-time data and more 

One of the more welcome additions to the subway system over the past several years has been real-time subway train arrival information. Popularly known as countdown clocks, the informative amenity is present on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and L subway lines as well as the 42nd Street shuttle. Installation begins this year along the 7 line and the lettered subway lines. The MTA will also accelerate delivering real-time arrival data for all 469 subway stations, which will be available on the MTA’s SubwayTime app and will be streamed as an open data feed for any developer to use.

USB on bus
USB on bus

The MTA is embracing the digital age by improving the customer experience aboard subway cars and buses. New vehicles will include digital information screens, Wi-Fi hotspots and USB charging ports for mobile devices. The charging ports will be installed on 200 subway cars this year and 400 next year, while all new buses delivered starting later this year will have Wi-Fi hotspots. By 2018, some 1,500 buses will have Wi-Fi hotspots and USB charging ports, bringing a new level of connectivity and convenience to customers. A pilot program to install digital information screens on 200 buses will also launch this year. The screens will display information about upcoming stops and service alerts.

The number of On The Go Travel Stations will be substantially increased this year. The interactive digital touchscreen kiosks provide real-time service information, maps, travel planning, and elevator and escalator status within subway stations. As of the first week in January, there were 169 On The Go Travel Stations in 31 subway stations and another 190 to be added in more than 20 additional stations by the end of 2016.

The MTA is also deploying Help Points, instant communication devices which provide direct lines to emergency assistance as well as service information. Topped with a distinctive blue beacon light for easy visibility, Help Points are already installed in 250 subway stations and will be added to at least 130 more this year, with all 469 stations featuring them by 2017.

Digital screens
Digital screens

To ensure a safe environment for MTA customers, deter inappropriate behavior and help prosecute criminals, more surveillance cameras are coming to the MTA’s bus and subway fleets. All new buses will be delivered with cameras installed and the retrofit process will continue on the existing fleet. By the end of this Capital Program, 85% of the bus fleet will have surveillance cameras installed. The MTA will also test the installation of surveillance cameras in subway cars later this year.

Continuing to build and improve

The upcoming initiatives build on the state’s significant efforts to transform the MTA and its infrastructure, the same as the Governor’s recent proposals to transform Penn Station and the Farley Post Office building into one, interconnected world-class transportation hub and the move forward with a long-overdue extension of the LIRR.

Additionally, New York State is contributing $8.3 billion to help fund the MTA’s $26.1 Capital Program, which when combined with existing efforts will add more than 3,100 buses and 1,400 subway cars to the system, add four new Metro-North stations in underserved areas of the Bronx, begin construction on extending the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem, and continue the construction of the East Side Access project which will bring LIRR customers into Grand Central Terminal.

The announced improvements to the MTA’s infrastructure, rolling stock and digital foot will help accommodate the agency’s growing ridership, which stands at an average of 5.6 million a day on the subway along and 8.5 million when counting buses and the two commuter railroads.

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