To Share or Not to Share? The Great Transit Data Debate

Some transit agencies keep it under wraps, while others share it widely. Three cities in the U.S. show how the availability of transit arrival data is a wild frontier.

"How likely is it that the arrival and departure information will be available on a site or service other than the official one? That depends on how open your local agency is. In some metro areas, transit agencies make data--routes, schedules, and even real-time vehicle location feeds--available to developers to mash into whatever applications they wish. In others, the agencies lock down their information, claiming it may not be reused without permission or fee."

New York's MTA is claiming copyright over its data. San Francisco is now writing data accessibility into its contracts. Portland is the most open of all.

Full Story: Who owns transit data?



No brainer: share it!

The idea behind the NY MTA in protecting its data in order to use it to make profits is noble, but misdirected. A nice counter, pointed out in this article, is that the transit agency can have increased ridership due to the apps developed in the community. I argue that this is THE argument.

The fact is that the developer community will create a value-added product at no direct cost to the transit agency (aside the cost of creating an open architecture, data systems, and feeding the data). Many individuals and developers can use transit data in ways that we can't even think of right now; and nor can the MTA. Entrepreneurial drive from developers and human creativity are immense, and there is no need to stifle innovation.

The fact is that the developer community (and open-source hobbyists) will add value to the data, and often offer a free product (like web mashups).

I'm unconvinced that the profits the MTA thinks it can make by closing its data offsets the value added to the data by the community. They may not get monetary profits, but users get better, more diverse, and more creative products. The bottom line is a better customer experience and subsequent ridership.

San Francisco and Portland have it right.

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