Alumni Spotlight: Axon Vibe’s Journey from Proof of Concept to Powering the MTA’s App for Essential Workers
The Transit Tech Lab provides a pathway for innovative tech companies to efficiently collaborate with New York and New Jersey’s transportation agencies to improve transit services. In its inaugural 2019 program, the Lab sought cutting-edge solutions to better predict subway incident impacts and communicate with customers in real-time. Axon Vibe was one of four companies selected for a year-long pilot with the MTA as part of the Transit Tech Lab.
Recently, we caught up with Axon Vibe’s North American Managing Director Boris Matz to discuss his time in the Lab, working with the MTA and his advice for other entrepreneurs.
Axon Vibe is a graduate of the 2019 Transit Tech Lab (Subway & Bus Challenge) and also had a crucial part in the MTA’s pandemic response. Tell us what Axon Vibe does and what problem you solved for the MTA.
Axon Vibe helps public transit operators deliver a more seamless travel experience across their systems by a) leveraging location-based technology and predictive analytics to personalize the mobile app experience, b) connecting public and private travel modes, and c) incentivizing public transit use by partnering with local businesses and sustainability-focused funds.
In 2019, we were selected to participate in the Transit Tech Lab. During the program, we developed a smartphone app that used real-time New York City Transit data to enable customers to plan bus and subway journeys and receive personalized notifications based on their commuting patterns. The customized alerts would inform MTA riders before they entered an area with congestion or a service interruption. By alerting customers ahead of time, the MTA could reduce the impact of a delay on the transit system.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City, the MTA needed a tool to respond quickly to the changing conditions and asked our company to help the agency support its Essential Connector program, which connected essential workers in the New York metro area with alternative travel to and from work.
Tell us more about the Essential Connector app and what was the outcome?
In May 2020, the MTA made an unprecedented decision to close the subway at night to disinfect the system. This created a gap in service for essential workers who relied on public transit to get to work. We worked with the MTA to quickly create a solution to help essential workers navigate the service changes with ease.
In less than a week, we converted our pilot app, which was designed to test personalized transit notifications, into an enhanced mobile app that allowed essential workers to book subsidized car rides during the nightly subway shutdown.
Thanks to the Lab, Axon Vibe was in the right place at the right time. We were already working with the MTA and regularly meeting with our MTA working group. So, when this unexpected new challenge arose, we were well positioned to help the MTA deliver this emergency response effort. As a result, the Essential Connector app was the primary way customers booked the MTA’s subsidized rides throughout the subway closures. Additionally, essential workers planned over 300,000 journeys through the app over the duration of the Essential Connector program and benefited from the app’s personalization features.
Why did you decide to apply to the Transit Tech Lab?
We saw the Transit Tech Lab as a key entry point and opportunity for us to pilot our technology with a major transit agency. Axon Vibe is based in Switzerland, so the Transit Tech Lab offered us a chance to enter the U.S. market and work with the largest transit agency in the U.S.
For a company like Axon Vibe that was looking to grow, expand globally, and land new projects and clients in the U.S., the Transit Tech Lab provided a pathway for us to showcase our relatively new technology, which we had previously deployed in Europe and Asia, in New York.
Plus, I had been an MTA rider for over 10 years at that time, and selfishly wanted to use our technology to improve my own commute.
What have been some positive outcomes for your business as a result of participating in the Lab?
Our team was determined to get the most out of the experience. Primarily, working with MTA helped open the door to future opportunities in the U.S. and across the globe. Additionally, by working closely with MTA, we were able to understand first-hand the challenges U.S. public transit operators face and tailor our solutions to help.
The success of this partnership further helped validate our technology and broadly demonstrated our ability to help transit agencies seamlessly connect public and private modes of transportation.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur interested in applying to the Lab?
The Lab can be a tremendous opportunity for an expanding firm, and I would encourage interested entrepreneurs to take a close look at the challenges presented by the Lab. If accepted, I would advise the participating companies to:
- Set specific, targeted pilot goals that the company is confident it can achieve and ideally over-deliver.
- Prioritize project management by identifying internal project champions, creating regular check-ins, and providing constant progress updates.
- Use the time with the transit partner to establish relationships and better understand the agency’s problems.
The Transit Tech Lab created a great program that helped us grow as a company, primarily because we heavily invested in the pilot’s success and approached every meeting and presentation as a chance to meet more people within the organization and learn what was on the mind of its leaders. So, I would encourage future participants to similarly take full advantage of their time in the Lab to get the most out of the experience.
We saw the Transit Tech Lab as a key entry point and opportunity for us to pilot our technology with a major transit agency.