May 10, 2022 - Business

COTA seeks startups' help with new innovation lab

The lobby of a tech innovation space at a public transit agency.
The entrance to COTA's new "Go! Mobility Lab" meant to bring together transit officials with local startup innovators. Photo: Tyler Buchanan/Axios

For the Central Ohio Transit Authority to effectively modernize, the agency knows it needs some outside help from Columbus' brightest tech minds.

Why it matters: COTA recently opened a "Go! Mobility Lab" on the seventh floor of its High Street headquarters with a goal of working closely with the city's rapidly-growing startup scene, part of an ongoing tech overhaul meant to better serve its millions of annual riders and draw in new ones.

Driving the news: Axios got a tour of the new space, which has the vibe of a transit-themed WeWork office.

  • Fitting for an agency so focused on movement, the collaborative space can be quickly reconfigured to host a variety of events, tech showcases and hands-on brainstorming sessions.
  • COTA is working on the lab alongside Rev1 Ventures, a local startup studio that will pair the agency with startups.

What they're saying: "I think what this lab will do is help us move forward with our digital transportation in a more thoughtful manner," Jason Yanni, COTA's senior director of product management and innovation, tells Axios.

  • Or, as he says half-jokingly, the lab will allow COTA to "fail fast."

Details: The agency wants to install digital displays at each bus stop to let waiting riders know when to expect the next bus.

  • COTA, which operates around 3,000 stops in a 562-square-mile service area, currently relies on the private marketplace to help carry out such a daunting project.
  • Yanni's team is inviting tech startups to the lab this summer to work on designs and test prototypes in a group setting.
  • Going back to the drawing board will happen in one room and in real time, with the goal of greatly cutting down on the bureaucratic inefficiency that normally plagues public agencies.

What's next: COTA has other projects in the works, from optimizing bus routes to improving driver safety.

  • This lab, Yanni tells us, will help the agency get moving on them.
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