A New Culture of Innovation in Transit: How one Port Authority Employee Took Tech at PATH to New Heights

transittechlab
Partnership for New York City
4 min readJan 30, 2023

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In 2021, Transit Tech Lab alumni Knaq, a 2020 Accessibility Challenge Pilot winner, was awarded a $4.5 million contract to install its predictive maintenance solution at five Port Authority facilities. After hearing about the new technology, a senior PATH engineer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, realized that the device could also help monitor and maintain some of the agency’s legacy equipment.

With the support of the Port Authority, Marco Gonzalez tested Knaq on the bistate commuter railroad’s HVAC and air compressor systems to help streamline maintenance and prevent service interruptions. Within the first week, a potential outage was detected and avoided thereby saving time, reducing costs, and improving customer service.

We spoke to Marco about how Knaq has helped his team, the future of technology adoption at transit agencies, and his advice for others looking to use technology to solve transit challenges.

“Simple, non-invasive solutions can go a long way in the public sector…Our success with Knaq has helped us realize that implementing new technology doesn’t have to be a large-scale, costly buildout.”

Tell us about your role at the Port Authority and how you learned about Knaq.

I’ve spent almost eight years in rail transit and have been with the Port Authority for nearly four and a half years, specifically at PATH as an engineer.

In my role, I look for ways to improve the reliability of our system, which includes eliminating or reducing equipment outages with minimal impact to our customers or operations.

Last year, I heard some of the Port Authority’s elevators and escalators were being retrofitted with a new device to capture real-time maintenance data. I became curious about how this technology could be applied more widely.

Knaq is a 2020 graduate of the Transit Tech Lab’s Curb & Accessibility Challenge. Can you tell us what Knaq does and how you identified the opportunity to scale Knaq’s technology to an additional use case?

Knaq provides predictive maintenance monitoring for customer-facing equipment and other mechanical assets. I was encouraged to hear that the Port Authority installed Knaq’s technology across five facilities to improve elevator and escalator reliability, so I began investigating if this technology could also work on other types of electrical equipment.

After learning the technology monitors electrical signals — which are consistent across various types of equipment — I recognized the technology could also be used to monitor legacy equipment, such as HVAC units and air compressors. When these types of assets fail, they can also result in service delays for customers and lost fare revenue. If we could use Knaq to identify problem areas in a legacy system, we could prevent outages and redirect staff time and resources to other system needs. I quickly realized that Knaq’s technology could be a game changer for us.

What have been some key benefits for the Port Authority after using and scaling Knaq’s technology?

We’ve been running Knaq sensors for several months, and just in the first month of use, the sensor alerted us to a temperature spike, which indicated that a piece of equipment was about to fail. So far, we’ve avoided two equipment failures without impacting service or our customers.

With this targeted approach to predictive maintenance, we’ve also been able to optimize our workforce to improve staff allocation of resources. For example, we previously would dispatch a person to check HVAC units once a day before we installed Knaq. Now, those daily inspections are no longer necessary; our staff can focus on other critical assets that need more urgent attention. That has been a tremendous advantage for our team.

What impact do you think your experience will have on the future of technology adoption in transit agencies?

Our experience testing Knaq has sparked a new culture of innovation at PATH. Now I have people from all over the Port Authority asking if they can install Knaq for their equipment. It’s been a great success because it’s made their work easier and allows them to do their jobs more efficiently.

Our success with Knaq has helped us as an agency realize that implementing new technology doesn’t have to be a large-scale, costly buildout. It’s not always necessary to adopt an extensive building management or SCADA system, which can take time to procure, design, and implement.

Simple, non-invasive solutions can go a long way in the public sector. With a device like Knaq, you can incorporate a web-based solution already on the market at minimal cost. You can install the device with minimal downtime, clip in a few wires, and be in business. That aspect is what sold our team at PATH on the idea. Everyone involved, me included, tended to avoid solutions that require complex installations due to the potentiality of failure.

And as far as the technology itself, this level of data and insight will help transit agencies move up the reliability pyramid for maintenance from preventative to predictive.

There is room in the transit industry for more innovative ideas that are easy to implement, as well as for teams that are ready to apply tech solutions that can help their agencies run more efficiently. I encourage other transit leaders and their employees to be open-minded about embracing innovation and keep an eye out for new technologies that can be leveraged in new ways.

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transittechlab
Partnership for New York City

The Transit Tech Lab is an accelerator program for public transportation solutions launched by the @MTA and @Partnership4NYC