'Genius' winners picked for ideas to fix subways

The New York City subway system is often plagued by long wait times, crowded train cars, and rising fares. But starting now, the MTA has high hopes for a better, more efficient subway system.

The MTA on Friday announced eight winners of the MTA Genius Transit Challenge from a pool of more than 400 applicants. The winners will split $2.5 million.

"Really good ideas, all of them were competitive," said Sarah Feinberg, a judge for the challenge. "You really had to find smart solutions that were also simple and cost-effective and efficient."

The competition started over the summer when Gov. Andrew Cuomo challenged the MTA to find new ideas to revamp the city's subway system.

Robert James, an engineer, is one of the winners in the "signals" category. He submitted a proposal using ultra-wideband wireless technology to eliminate expensive, heavy equipment for signal systems. That technology would also provide extreme accuracy for subway car locations.

"You don't have GPS underground, you don't have GPS in urban canyon environment, so this is to take the place of GPS," James told reporters. "It's really the terrestrial version of a high-accuracy network."

Other proposals include using longer trains to increase passenger capacity. Another suggests using a semi-automatic robotic system to install communications and control infrastructure in subway tunnels.

"I believe the wireless approach has a real promise," MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said. "It will save time, it will also save money."

Some transit advocacy groups are doubtful if and when these winning ideas will actually be utilized. Lhota couldn't give us an exact timeframe but did say the agency is moving "as quickly as possible" to implement the plans.