COVID Business Case for New York Transportation

Cyril Korenbeusser
5 min readNov 11, 2020

Can Covid help the MTA’s to get out of a painful digital transformation?

MTA late wake up, start promoting digital initiatives to reconnect with its customers. However, at the same time several core services are still failing. Clash between digital offering and business infrastructure are glaring. Finding a positive exit plan would require less politics and more digital strategy leveraging modern technology such as crowd data management and external cloud services. Maybe a positive solution to pull MTA back on track.

MTA upgrade is overdue. Improving the core service is urgent. According to the numerous articles published in the last years, every component supporting the services are failing: trains, rails, signals, tunnels, bridges, employees’ structure, salaries… Governor and Mayor had to step up and get engaged in a multi-decade issue and were starting pushing for urgent fix and additional taxes. But a drastic shift of corporate culture is required to embrace our digital era.

Surprisingly the New York public transportation did not announce the Marshal Plan expected. The pains points identified so far were not addressed but instead the company publicized working on the digital customer journey. This move would make sense for any traditional companies. Improving the customer experience helps to maximize revenue by transforming potential customers, by accelerating the buying process, by reducing the inherent costs with digitalization…

Unfortunately, MTA is not exactly a traditional company. First MTA is playing on a non-competitive market:

· There is no war to attract customers since subway is a monopolist’s market in a overfilled city with traffic problems.

· There is neither no tentative to attract additional customers since subways are already saturated during peaks hours.

· So a remaining pillar of a digital Transformations is the cost optimization. But in a context of obsolete infrastructure and unionized employee the major costs opportunities are not on the customer side and gains are limited.

Pre-covid regular over-crowded morning in New York Subway

We start to understand why this digital journey risk to be neither a journey nor digital.

Breaking down MTA’s problem in 2-fold would allow to manage on one side transportation operation and on the other side customer management. Digitalization of the operations would improve traffic performance, reliability and enable new services. It would be a perfect pitch if the journey was not starting from far. Network of trains lack network… There is no live communication of the geo-localization, drivers still need to press buttons in the stations, trains still honk to prevent accident in tunnels… Looking at the customer journey is not offering a better picture: clients still need to have an MTA card to pay, eApp is only replacing traditional map with very limited services, and so on, and so on….

Could MTA with its mass transportation offer really survive the new wave of eco-friendly personal transportation systems ? Is the ban on scooter, e-bike and Uber the only way to save the dying MTA ?

Having to fix a problem that should have been worked on since years could be an incredible opportunity. Legacy system obsolete have to be totally replaced introducing brand new processes and work habits. Therefor MTA3.0 could start relying on data.

Inherent and exogenous data will offer MTA the material to manage and improve the customer journey. For instance, leveraging maintenance data and train usage could lead to a better scheduling of train maintenance, optimizing the train usage between MTBF (failure). We all remember IBM offer to leverage AI to schedule industrial maintenance. Using AI for the Management of Train component end of life is being tested by many Industrials. Using crowd monitoring would shift the dying MTA process to an efficient customer centric model. Customer could share critical data on performance, issues, needs…Switching to data focused model similar to the tech industry or financial institutions is huge organizational challenges for an old organization like MTA. It requires to pivot the company driving principles and start focusing on the 3 data challenges: collect, compute and protect.

Gladly MTA will be helped by a rich cellphone infrastructure allowing user to be connected full time and tomorrow share insights. User would be enabled to report train situation, we would rely on user willingness to improve their own rides and act on their own situation while creating the database of issues/actions to be handled.

Crowed reporting is already known by NYC, for instance the 311 apps is exactly leveraging the willingness of the New Yorker to improve the city.

The absence on the customer side is slowly being fulfilled by other players. Google released its interesting app called Pigeon. Public community and Google technology is mitigating an area lacking innovation for too long.

Knowing is the prerequisite of planning moves in the city. Pigeon is helping us to move forward in the right direction placing the community at the center of its ecosystem.

With vaccination and rapid testing on the horizon MTA window of opportunity is now ticking

MTA should embrace the transformation with a disruptive evolution of the digital-corporate-culture. Embracing a modern technology to manage both its operation and its customer would allow to switch to a data focused company. A company leveraging its own data but also the crowed data that the community crave to share to improve a critical service of New York City. A first little caveat… Most of the underground still lack GSM network… But gladly Covid 19 provides an unexpected opportunity for a public service to renew its service catalog. Google well known transit crowd solution has been hardly hit by Covid. Pigeon has disappeared and it provides an opportunity for MTA to embrace the market of data driven transportation. Gladly pigeon has designed many use cases that could be implemented by the new MTA, as long as there is a new MTA.

Author:

Cyril Korenbeusser is a digital native with 2 decades of experience in IT strategy and operations. He is Managing Director at BNP Paribas, Head of IT Production Americas and deputy CTO.

@CKorenbeusser , https://www.linkedin.com/in/cyrilk/, blog.thinkencore

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Cyril Korenbeusser

Digital native writing, speaking & blogging on Ops, IT Strat, and digital X. He is Managing Director at BNP Paribas changing the world bit by qBit