July 14--The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is hoping software entrepreneurs will answer the call for a fresh take on transit-related apps that will keep smart phone-toting riders informed throughout their travels.
The parent organization of Metro-North Railroad this week announced MTA App Quest -- a contest offering a $5,000 grand prize to the software developer that creates the best application to help rail and bus riders or motorists navigate the transit or road systems maintained by the MTA.
In addition to the cash prize, the winner and other top finishers can have their applications added to the growing list of links to MTA-related software applications that are shown on the MTA's site.
"There is a whole reservoir of talent out there and we want to take advantage of the skills that are out there already," MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
Chris Schoenfeld, a Greenwich resident and developer of the Station Stops iPhone application, said he hoped the contest inspired developers to create useful software.
Station Stops, which provides schedule information for Metro-North trains, is included on the MTA's roster of iPhone-based transit applications.
"I think it is really smart of the MTA to go this route by saying, 'look, nobody is going to get rich off of this, so let's at least make it a little fun,' " Schoenfeld said. "Here is a little incentive and excitement to get people to do this."
To spur developers' sense of invention, the MTA is also releasing data to use in its design of interactive maps and other application of features.
The information includes historical data on the location of subway trains, locations of resources at subway stations such as platforms, elevators, and turnstiles and their availability, maps showing bus routes, and performance data of MTA agencies since 2008.
Anders said since the MTA App Center was posted in April, the top four developers on the MTA list of applications have had an estimated 400,000 downloads among them.
Comprehensive data about individual downloads or sales of applications is not available because some developers don't share that information with the agency, Anders said.
NYCmate.com, an iPhone application that projects the arrival time of New York City subways using information provided by riders, has been downloaded 600,000 times, she said.
"We don't get complete numbers, but it seems to be growing in popularity," Anders said.
Alex Bell, a mobile and Web-based developer for the New York City firm Densebrain, which developed its free nycMATE application to provide MTA rail and bus maps over iPhone and the Google Android smart phones, said the MTA's decision to sponsor the contest recognizes the good work that developers have done.
In designing the application, which has had about 700,000 downloads over a year and a half, it was decided to include as much of the MTA's trademark subway maps and schedule information as possible in order to make using the software as familiar as possible to users, Bell said.
Bell said Densebrain's developers are mulling a streamlined application to provide only New York City transit bus maps.
"It's commendable to see the MTA offering some of the money in the contest," Bell said.
Joshua Crandall, chief executive officer and founder of the web-based Clever Commute, which e-mails Metro-North passengers updates about train delays, track changes and other service issues, said he has added a new website at m.clevercommute.com that enables users of iPhones, Google Androids and other smart phones to more easily search for alerts about problems.
Similarly to Clever Commute's e-mail bulletins, the website is supported by small ads.
"I think that has helped bridge some of the gap and some of the users like the idea of not having to install an application," Crandall said.
A complete list of links to applications in the MTA's App Center can be found online at www.mta.info/apps/index.html.
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