NJ Picked as ‘Learning Lab’ to Improve State Services Using Digital Technology

John Reitmeyer | July 25, 2018 | More Issues
Better information for NJ Transit riders, a more efficient Newark Airport. These and other government initiatives are promised

Credit: NJ Transit
NJ Transit customer service
New Jersey has been picked as one of five states that will be participating this year in a National Governors Association “learning lab,” a program that is designed to highlight ways digital technology can help states enhance the delivery of government services.

The initiative is expected to complement some of the efforts that first-term Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is launching to improve state government and foster economic growth with innovation and technology.

One of those efforts is a push within New Jersey Transit to provide riders with better information about the agency’s services. Customer relations currently is a sore spot for many daily commuters — and a frequent source of their complaints on social media when trains and buses are delayed or canceled. Other technology applications in New Jersey will also be linked to the NGA initiative, including the use of smart technology to upgrade the state’s transportation and energy infrastructure, the Murphy administration says.

New Jersey will also be participating later this year in a three-day NGA forum in Illinois, another state that has been placing a heavy emphasis on technology. The other states chosen for the learning-lab initiative along with New Jersey are Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, and Virginia.

“This initiative is an excellent launching pad in our commitment to reclaim New Jersey’s Innovation economy by fostering new, smart technologies, powerful data, and digital innovation to improve the lives of our residents,” Murphy said in a statement. “We look forward to working with other states to realize the future that smart technologies promise.”

Murphy promises greater efficiency

During his successful run for governor last year, Murphy, a Democrat, frequently stressed the need for the Garden State to embrace technology and innovation to both improve the economy and to make the government run more effectively. One of his administration’s 14 transition committees focused solely on the issue of innovation and Murphy personally offered his support for the establishment of a technology hub in New Brunswick to help produce research-based startups and new-business incubation.

Meanwhile, NJ Transit has promised to incorporate technology into improved communications with its riders; the new state budget that Murphy signed into law earlier this month includes an additional $242 million in general-fund revenue to help support the agency’s operations. When the increased funding was first announced earlier this year, NJ Transit officials said it would help the agency enhance bus and rail service reliability and provide more timely updates to riders and the media.

Murphy’s office issued a news release last week saying the state would also incorporate technology into other major transportation projects as part of the NGA initiative; it cited the Port Authority’s $2.7 million upgrade of Terminal One at Newark Liberty Airport, which is funded in that agency’s 10-year capital plan, as an example. The initiative would also play a role in the Murphy administration’s push to improve the state’s power grid and ramp up clean-energy production to more efficiently meet the energy needs of New Jersey residents, according to the news release. It will also tie in to the development of the innovation hub on a 12-acre site in New Brunswick through a public-private partnership involving the state Economic Development Authority.

“New Jersey is uniquely positioned to capitalize on its heritage of innovation, serve in a peer capacity, and assume a leadership role in the community of smarter states,” Murphy said.

The selection of New Jersey as one of the five learning-lab states was announced last week during the NGA’s summer meeting in New Mexico. The initiative is expected to serve as the first phase of a broader “Smarter States, Smarter Communities” program that’s focused on helping states replicate technology-based “smart activities” across the country.

“I believe that this initiative will equip governors of all states with the tools they need to implement effective technology policy and I’m proud that NGA is leading on this critical issue,” said Scott D. Pattison, the group’s executive director and chief executive officer.