‘SEPTA for All’ challenge aims to make public transit more accessible to people with disabilities

Fox Chase Line
Melissa Mitman

The City of Philadelphia recently announced a new initiative in hopes to make public transit more welcoming, comfortable, and accessible to people with disabilities.

Now it’s time to see if Philadelphians are up for the challenge.

SmartCityPHL’s new challenge, SEPTA for All: Augmenting Transit with Augmented Reality, invites innovators to submit ideas that would use augmented reality technology to make public transit more accessible those with disabilities.

“The pandemic amplified how critical public transit is to Philadelphians,” said Emily Yates, Smart City Director in a statement. “Our communities rely on public transit to accomplish daily tasks like going to work, school, and shopping. We want to make sure that as we reopen, public transit is accessible to all residents and visitors. We believe augmented reality can really help realize this goal and support an equitable recovery.”

SmartCityPHL is partnering with SEPTA and the City’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS) to host the challenge. Applications are due Aug. 2.

“This challenge is an opportunity to think creatively about how people with diverse needs navigate our city,” said Mike Carroll, Deputy Managing Director for OTIS.  “As we continue to update physical infrastructure to increase access, augmented reality can help public transit in Philadelphia feel more welcoming to all.”

Proposals can address any segment of a transit journey from trip planning through arriving at a destination.

Augmented reality combines digital and real-life content to enhance experiences. Philadelphia was one of three cities selected earlier this year to host an augmented reality developer competition. Support for the challenge is provided by US Ignite, Facebook Technologies, and Comcast. The Institute on Disabilities at Temple University has also provided support in shaping the event.

“Connectivity and technology have the power to improve lives and make cities more efficient, safe, and inclusive,” said Doug Guthrie, Senior Vice President of Smart Cities at Comcast. “This challenge will harness the experiences, creativity, and imagination of our community to make our hometown more accessible for all.”

SmartCityPHL also invites people with disabilities to share their experiences with navigating public transit through a survey, available online through July 17. Survey results will help inform ideas and solutions for the challenge. Survey results will be shared at the challenge kickoff event on July 19 to provide insights that can help innovators refine their ideas. Survey results will also be made available to the public.

The challenge will take part in three phases. First, an open application process will collect ideas and information about teams’ capabilities. Then, a judging panel will select up to 12 semi-finalists to present their ideas at a virtual pitch event. Up to six teams with the top pitches will move on to the final round and receive small grants to develop working prototypes of their ideas. Ultimately, winning teams will be chosen from among the six finalists to receive a total of more than $35,000 in cash prizes and pilot their idea with SEPTA and the City.

Prospective applicants can find more information, including application and timeline, at phila.gov/septa-for-all. All events are open to the public.

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