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The Whole Patient: A New Approach To Healing the MTA

Managing Director
New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority

This is a phenomenally exciting time to be working at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): our team has been given a mandate to reimagine, rebuild and reinvigorate a vast system that spans subways, buses, rails, bridges and tunnels.

Until recently, this vital system has relied on an unfortunate combination of old-school technology and outdated communications infrastructure. We’ve been asked to get this work done yesterday, so we’re grateful that there are so many new technologies available to speed the process of addressing the body, heart and soul of our operations.

Body, heart, and soul? Let me explain.

Healing the MTA requires a multipronged approach. On the physical side, we’re laying in new signal cables, installing new switches, adding state-of-the-art signal systems and using new and innovative equipment to install continuous welded rail faster than we’ve been able to do before.

And all of this is important. The trains, subway cars, buses, rails, bridges and tunnels are the bones of our operation. Without these bones, the body—our network—cannot move.

That movement doesn’t happen without the heart. And that’s our workforce: 73,000 strong. People who, day in and day out—on holidays, weekends and overnight, in good weather and in bad—never falter in their duty to keep New Yorkers moving. With their commitment and support we’re confident that we’ll get this done, because our No. 1 priority remains our customers.

So, yes, we acknowledge that we really aren’t just in the business of moving trains and buses from point A to point B. On the contrary, our job is to help moms get to work; assist dads on their journey home; make sure kids get to school on time; and keep the region, its culture and its economy moving.

Our customers are—and always have been—the soul of this system; the animating force that makes our subways and buses, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, and bridges and tunnels more than just the sum of their parts. And when that soul suffers, the body feels it.

So, even as we ensure the strength of our bones and the overall health of our body, we’re also actively enhancing our relationship with our customers to restore that vital equilibrium between body and soul.

To do that, we’re reinvigorating our communications capacity by repairing the “digital rails” we use to talk to customers. That means installing Wi-Fi and cell connectivity in all of our underground stations, modernizing and updating data streams, building new trip planning functions and overhauling our entire back end.

On the customer-facing side, we’re putting those new digital rails to use through a new mobile-first communications strategy. We’ve launched MYmta, a brand-new app for iOS and Android, and, a new responsive website.Why mobile first? Because even though the legacy MTA website was designed for desktop computers, and didn’t work well on cell phones, mobile accounted for 65 percent of customer visits. That told us a lot.

The new app and mobile-friendly website provide our customers with real-time arrival information for trains, subways and buses; service status, including information on planned work and updates on the causes of delays; the ability to see what stations or bus stops are nearby with one click; and a unified trip planning function across MTA trains, subways and buses, as well as for non-MTA entities such as Staten Island Ferry, NYC ­ferries, PATH [Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation] and New Jersey Transit Corporation.

The results so far have been solid: during the first month of operation, 99 percent of traffic to the new website came from mobile, more than a quarter of a million customers downloaded the MYmta app, and customers planned 1.5 million trips using our new trip planner.

To further enhance the dialog with our customers, we’ve launched an in-system advertising campaign asking for advice and feedback on how the app and website should evolve. The response has been terrific, and we now have mountains of data to inform our communications roadmap going forward.

As we continue to build for tomorrow, body, heart and soul will continue to be our watchwords for, without the rails, buses, trains, bridges and tunnels, and without our workforce to keep the system moving, New Yorkers can’t get to where they need to be. And without them, none of it matters.

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