Redesigning Transit at Scale — How Remix Helped the MTA Bring Better Bus Service to NYC
Last month, we shared the SXSW stage with Transit Tech Lab alum Dan Getelman, co-founder of Remix (acquired by Via in 2021). Remix’s platform helps planners redesign streets and transit to ensure populations are served efficiently and equitably.
After a successful pilot, the MTA estimates that Remix saved the agency millions in costs and 130 miles of non-revenue service per day. The bus network redesign process was also 71% faster than the previous paper-based method. When the MTA began nightly subway closures during the early months of COVID-19, Remix leveraged hundreds of data sets to ensure efficient bus transportation for essential workers. We spoke to the team at Remix to learn more.
“The Transit Tech Lab was an incredible opportunity. We‘d been trying to sell to the MTA for years, and the Lab accelerated that process.”
What does Remix do?
Remix was started in 2014 after its co-founders participated in a Code for America project to help government agencies better plan and innovate using technology. The product suite included a planning platform and scheduling software for transit agencies to help them visualize data that drives insights and better decision-making on planning city transit systems.
City agencies usually have access to tons of data. Still, it is difficult to do anything meaningful with that data if you can’t quickly get to the bottom line or determine the impact of what you’re trying to accomplish.
In 2021 Remix was acquired by Via and now is part of a broader platform that helps cities plan, operate, and optimize their transit networks by partnering with city agencies to create an end-to-end software solution that can fully support their transportation communities.
Remix was a participant in the inaugural 2019 Transit Tech Lab. What problem were you solving for the MTA?
We responded to the Lab’s Bus Challenge, which asked for solutions to help make city buses faster and more efficient. And that’s exactly what our software was designed to do. It takes an existing transit system and overlays information on how and when people travel to make those systems work better for the agencies and the communities that rely on that service.
At the time, the MTA was planning a borough-by-borough redesign of their bus system, and Remix was selected to help aid the bus redesign for the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Express Bus Service in Staten Island. So, the main goals for the pilot were to train the MTA and New York City Transit on using the software, come up with two to three different network designs for the selected boroughs, and then take those options to the public for voting and feedback.
Traditionally, that kind of redesign was done manually by printing out maps and drawing out route changes and detours by hand. Remix expedites that process by making it digital and ingesting existing data such as standard transit routes and schedules plus census, demographic or other forms of relevant data to modify or add new lines and run analysis.
Our software enabled the MTA to make a before and after comparison between the current system versus the new design to see how those changes would look on the ground: which routes are traveled the most and which ones are running slow? How many drivers are needed? What would it cost to make changes to the existing design? We take all these layers of information and put them into action by showing the potential impact of those changes in real-time, such as changes in a rider’s travel time: how far could a rider travel in 15, 30, or 60 minutes? The MTA now had all this meaningful information at its fingertips to inform its decision-making and see the value before investing in large-scale changes.
And when it was time to take those changes to the public, the MTA could easily show riders how these changes would improve their commutes.
At the end of the Transit Tech Lab, Remix was selected for a yearlong pilot with the MTA. What were the outcomes of that pilot?
After using Remix, the MTA said it was able to plan and design a bus network over 70% faster when compared to its existing process. We demonstrated that our product not only increased the efficiency of the bus service but also increased MTA’s productivity as a team — as our software enabled MTA bus planners to iterate quickly, make data-informed decisions, and quickly compare various scenarios and their costs.
The technology also became very useful in the MTA’s COVID-19 response. We built custom data layers for the MTA to quickly get information to inform changes to their system and meet the needs of essential workers and others who relied on public transportation to reach essential services — hospitals, doctors’ appointments, and grocery stores.
Quick decisions were needed to help inform which bus services to cut, keep, or modify to fit the schedules of essential workers. Remix helped the MTA quickly gather data, run iterations of those scenarios, and collaborate internally with their partners to make changes.
This particular use case further amplified the practical benefit of what we’d built. The analog way of making critical service changes on a system of this scale didn’t lend itself to a pandemic situation, which was changing from week to week. So having a core platform that could support that rate of change made a hard job much easier at a very stressful time. That’s something that we’re incredibly proud of.
What have been some of the benefits post-program?
The Transit Tech Lab was an incredible opportunity. We‘d been trying to sell to the MTA for years, and the Lab accelerated that process. Transit tech is still a new idea to some, and it’s an area where technology companies can struggle to get in the door at public agencies. And while some agencies realize they have technology needs, there’s still a learning curve around deciding what exactly is needed, which means it can take years before a company has its first conversation or demo with an agency.
Through the Lab, the MTA got the chance to test our software to see its value without committing to a long-term deal. We had an opportunity to demonstrate our value, which led to a commercial procurement with the MTA. It was a win-win for both sides.
Also, having the MTA as one of our customers further drove our credibility and visibility in the market. And with over half of American transit trips coming from New York, having our product behind the largest transit agency in the world was a powerful use case. I think it also made us attractive to Via, which acquired Remix in 2021.
What advice do you have for future Transit Tech Lab cohorts, and how can companies get the most out of their time in the Lab?
I would advise participating companies to really get to know the agency they’re working with and fully understand the problem before offering solutions.
Also, continue to stay customer-centric. Spend as much time face-to-face as possible, but also think outside the box and be responsive to the customer's needs. That’s something we’ve done well. That willingness to adapt led to us expanding an aspect of our product offering specifically for the MTA. It has since become one of the most popular features among our customers.
That outcome further proved that public-private partnerships can be effective instead of trying to solve problems in a vacuum. If everyone has the same goal in mind, these partnerships can generate positive change for our communities. In our case, working alongside the MTA to deliver more efficient bus service proves that this model works. And with more public-sector dollars earmarked for public transportation, including NYSERDA funding, which we received during our pilot, there’s a tremendous opportunity for technology companies in this space to leverage what the Transit Tech Lab has created to fast-track meaningful solutions to transportation challenges.