Just Transit SF is offering $200,000 in prize money to local innovators who have ways to improve upon environmental transportation in San Francisco. (Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner 2005)

Transit ideas worth big bucks

From the “Google Bus” to Lyft, and from carsharing to NextMuni bus predictions, recent technology innovations transform the way San Franciscans access transit.

Now, one group is betting that Silicon Valley’s close neighbor will foster local innovation to make transportation more environmentally friendly and accessible.

And they’re offering cash to make that happen.

The Just Transit SF challenge is offering three cash prizes — $125,000, $50,000 and $25,000 — to fund ideas that reduce carbon emissions by way of public transit or increased access to transit in San Francisco.

It’s a growing trend in trying to tap into people-power to inject public agencies with new ideas.

The challenge is sponsored by the climate nonprofit 11th Hour Project, which itself receives funding from the Schmidt Family Foundation via Google’s Eric Schmidt. It’s the second local contest awarding prizes to foster innovation in public transportation of late. The California Department of Transportation closed a contest offering $25,000 for ideas to improve state transportation just this month.

Jessica Earley, Just Transit SF challenge’s administrator, told the S.F. Examiner the idea is to harness San Francisco’s spirit of innovation. The idea could be an app, a gadget or even a policy change that would achieve carbon-reduction goals.

“We want to encourage people who have great solutions,” Earley said.

Though much of the response has so far come from schools, companies and established transit nonprofits, like TransForm and San Francisco Transit Riders group, the contest is open to anyone with an idea.

Muni and BART riders can also send in an application and compete in the challenge. Just Transit SF requires a sponsoring organization — like a nonprofit or transit agency — that can receive the grant money. But Earley said she’d connect riders with contest ideas to local agencies.

The contest deadline is Nov. 6.

Nick Josefowitz, a member of BART’s Board of Directors, is a major supporter of the contest.

“Prizes like this will never substitute for public transit agencies that are well-funded and well-run,” he said.

San Francisco is humming with innovative energy, he said. “It’s prizes like this that help focus and deploy those talents to help solve some of our congestion, crowding and connectivity challenges.”

All people have to do, he said, is offer their ideas.

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