Home MTA Technology Making the case for open transit data

Making the case for open transit data

by Benjamin Kabak

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

For the past year, the MTA has engaged in a widespread effort to overhaul its relationship toward data. Since my charge that the authority’s close-minded approach to sharing put it on the wrong path in an age of open information, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder has led an effort to work with — instead of against — developers. The authority has released its full scheduling data for application and web-based programmers to use, and more on data sets on everything from ridership numbers to stairwell locations are being released each month.

Throughout the nation, many transit agencies are involved in similar data programs, and this week on Streetsfilms, Elizabeth Press discussed these efforts and how data availability can improve everyone’s commutes. She summarizes the video, embedded above:

Ever find yourself waiting for the next bus, not knowing when it will arrive? Think it would be great if you could check a subway countdown clock from the sidewalk? Or get arrival times on your phone? Giving transit riders better information can make ridng the bus or the train more convenient and appealing. And transit agencies are finding that the easiest and least expensive way to do it is by opening data about routes, schedules, and real-time locations to software developers, instead of guarding it like a proprietary secret.

I recently got the chance to dive into the topic of open data in transit with my colleagues at OpenPlans. We went up to Boston to see what transit riders got out of the transportation department’s decision to open up its data. We also talked to New York MTA Chair Jay Walder, City Council Member Gale Brewer, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, and Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White to paint a full picture of what it would mean if cities shared their transit and transportation data. The information is there, waiting to be put to use to help people plan transit trips, waste less gas driving, or make their streets safer.

Making schedules available in the right format can go a long way toward bringing in more customers and tearing down the veil of secrecy that often hides transit operations. I’m glad to see the MTA taking the right steps, and I’m glad to see the right people highlighting those efforts while urging transit agencies to become more and more transparent.

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