With Google Transit’s plan to map the New York public transportation system still very much in its infancy, among the best places to which to turn for Google-compatible transit information is onNYTurf.com’s NYC Subway Google Map Hack. It uses a variety of information — including staircase locations on stations in Manhattan — to provide a comprehensive overview of the subway and PATH systems.
Recently, the site’s owner Will announced his plans to update the map. This update will include more user customization as well as stairwell locations for stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and most of Queens. What it won’t include is detailed schedule information about the subways because the MTA is taking its sweet time in responding to Will’s Freedom of Information request for this information.
According to Will, he has been trying for two months to procure the information — schedules and travel times between stations — that the MTA is reportedly willing to give over to Google. Rightfully so, he’s a bit irked by this news:
The question this begs is will Google be the only party getting the data, or map artwork, or anything else from the MTA? Anything the MTA gives Google should also be available to the public.
The MTA schedule data should be made available to the public at large in an easy to use structured data format, so that anyone interested in developing a web service based on it can do so. To work with Google’s Transit directions sytem, the MTA will have to create just such a data feed. When they do, they should make access to it completely public. After all we all pay for it with taxes and fares.
Will goes on to note that the MTA claims they don’t keep the information on hand. Meanwhile, New York City Transit is supposedly researching whether or not they have a data dump, and the city’s other agencies have engaged in similar stall tactics.
Now, I know what you must be thinking: Why would onNYTurf really want the scheduling data for the MTA when everyone knows it’s unreliable? Well, au contraire, mon frere. I’ve noticed that New York City Transit does adhere to a set schedule. If there are no train delays, the same trains arrive at the same stops at the same time every morning. During peak hours, when trains are bunched and subject to delays caused by passengers, the time difference may be a minute or two, but the trains run like clockwork. I’ve even timed my commute to them.
This suggests to me that the MTA knows the schedule and that they probably have it in a form that Will would be able to use for his map. Will wants this data for a very rational purpose. “One thing you can do with schedule data is you can analyze the reach of a transit system. You can make maps that show what area can reach a target destination in say 30 min or 1 hr,” he said. “It is also vital to modeling expansions or changes to transit services. Put in the public’s hands anyone can explore where might be the best places to build a new downtown, or how effective a new rapid bus service might be relieving congestion on existing subway services.”
The MTA, a public benefit corporation, would be doing the public — which supports the corporation through taxes (look at your gas bill) and other fees — a favor. If the agency has the wherewithal to work with Google, they should good Will what he needs. It’s plain as that.