Getting from one place to another is serious business for Neysa Pranger ’95.
And not just for herself. She wants the millions of people who live in and visit New York City to arrive at their desired location—on time and at a reasonable cost.
“Transportation impacts people’s daily lives,” she said. “Whether people are walking, biking or driving there are common denominators. People want to get around safely, efficiently and affordably.”
Her latest “wayfinding” endeavor is a most ambitious one. She is part of a team at Intersection, a technology firm helping to transform the roughly 6,000 remaining pay phones in New York City into high-speed Wi-Fi kiosks. These tech-stations could use the mobile technology most now carry around with them to help people navigate the city well.
“The concept of wayfinding has been around,” said Pranger, the director of strategy consulting at Intersection. “But new technology around beacons and transmitters allows for handshakes between the user and the system. There’s a two-way data exchange. You agree to share information—your location—and you’ll get relevant information back.”
The project, LinkNYC, is massive and will be launched in phases, beginning with the first 10 to 15 kiosks early this year and eventually rolling out to 7,500 across the five boroughs. Tablet-based features such as free phone calls, USB charging ports, maps and web browsing will be immediately available, with additional apps and services added as the kiosks come online.
“When completed, this will be the largest municipal Wi-Fi program in the world,” said Pranger, “and, more importantly, will provide high-speed broadband access to 2.5 million underserved New Yorkers.”
Pranger’s firm worked with the city to conceive how to add public amenities and services with advertisers paying the tab.
The kiosks will operate on a unique business model. All services will be free to users, paid by digital advertising on each side of most kiosks. The plan is for the city to gain about $500 million in revenue as well.
“What people really want are the basics of information: Where am I, how do I get there, and when is the next train?” she said.
Her particular assignment is to plan systems for maintenance and monitoring of the LinkNYC kiosks so the operations center and the city can understand real-time status and metric systems, such as users per kiosk, bandwidth used, last time a kiosk is used and ways for a user to message a kiosk problem.
“Calvin’s strong emphasis on service never left me. Working for the public interest motivates me.” Neysa Pranger
Prior to her work at Intersection, Pranger worked for IBM, focused on helping clients improve the delivery of public services, and for Region Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization.
Pranger also worked for eight years on the Straphangers Campaign, a New York City public transportation advocacy group.
“We have choices about how to get around,” she said. “In urban communities the calculations are different. With technology we can make it easier for residents and visitors to make the best choices in planning, paying for and executing a trip.”
A biology major at Calvin, Pranger worked for New York’s Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) during her summers away from school, canvassing neighborhoods about topics such as clean water, landfills and pollution. PIRG hired her full-time after her graduation.
“Calvin’s strong emphasis on service never left me,” she said. “Working for the public interest motivates me.” Pranger is excited to work on this “bright possibility” of personalized single-point urban transportation planning.
“Economic status should not be a factor when it comes to wayfinding and access to information,” she said. “Our solution can be used by anyone regardless of whether you own a smartphone or not. High-speed wireless Internet access has become a basic utility. People need it daily.”