WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Born and raised in Washington Heights, brothers Roger and Jeff Flores know a thing or two about riding buses and subways.
After years of trying to rush out of the house to catch a bus without knowing which loose MetroCard still had a balance — or going to a kiosk to refill them only to discover the machine wasn't working — they decided to create an app to help New Yorkers smooth out the process.
“We constantly take the train, and one of the frustrations was that you couldn’t check the balance on your card” remotely, said Jeff Flores, 26.
In response, he and his brother Roger decided to create an app, Metroki, that allows riders to reload and check their MetroCard balance on a smartphone — and could eventually let straphangers pay fares using only their phones.
The pair worked on the app for more than a year before spotting the MTA's request for proposals in June that sought a “systems integrator to design, furnish, install, test, integrate and implement an account-based new fare payment and collection system based on open bank card payment industry standards.”
The RFP, Flores said, was for the MTA’s planned overhaul to eliminate MetroCards in favor of a different payment technology by 2022.
“They needed a component where it was a wireless payment, and we fit that particular niche,” said Roger Flores, 30. “We said let’s take a look… Maybe we can find an application that can do this, or some sort of website, and there was nothing out there for our sake.”
Roger Flores, who said he has an eight-year background in business-to-business sales, turned to his brother, who had taken several computer courses. The two came up with the new tool in early 2015.
He said they were able to build a prototype working with senior developers from New York, as well as a few overseas, and “bootstrapping our way to make this.”
In January 2016, they presented their testing product to friends and family, and even went out to the streets with a survey to ask locals for feedback.
“We went to 42nd Street and we asked everyone to do a survey, and our response — out of 100 surveys — was 100 percent of the people said they wanted to see this app on the streets,” Roger Flores said.
Their goal was to create something that could work with the MTA’s vision, yet be implemented in any city worldwide.
Their younger brothers, Mike and Omar, have also helped with the marketing, videos and connecting the elder siblings to a school of coders for more support.
The brothers said they’re now waiting to hear back from the MTA, but that in the meantime, they’re been working with Mark Gold of 2020 Startup, to take their dreams to the next level. The 2020 Startup program has provided the brothers with mentorship and strategizing support.
MTA officials said they could not comment on the RFP process.
“Our goal is to see the product out there, and making people’s lives a lot easier,” Roger Flores said. “We won’t stop until we accomplish this, because it’s something we need for our own lives and we’re sure it could change the lives of others as well.”