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City-Go-Round Launches: Public Transit Apps and the Fight for More Open Civic Data

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, December 10 2009

Looking for a good transit app? There's a site for that. The good people at FrontSeat.org, makers of "software for civic life" like WalkScore.com (which promotes car-free living by providing a personalized "walkability" rating for any address) have unveiled their latest project: City-Go-Round. The site is a searchable database of public transit applications (apps) available in cities across America. Visitors also see a list of which transit agencies make their data publicly available to software developers and which agencies do not.

“We are calling on transit agencies nationwide to open their data and follow the lead of the Open Government Directive issued this week by the White House,” said Mike Mathieu, founder and chairman of Front Seat. “City-Go-Round’s transit apps are a concrete example of how open data can improve citizens’ lives on a daily basis.”

The site currently is indexing more than 60 apps, including real-time bus arrival information, augmented-reality maps of public transit systems, portable schedules and maps, and apps to help commuters shave time off of your public transit trip. "If we can make public transit more convenient, more people will ride public transit," it proclaims. "More people riding public transit equals less driving. Less driving equals a healthier planet."

City-Go-Round has definitely done its homework on the data problem, since the vast majority of municipal transit systems are still taking a 19th century approach to sharing information. Only 84 out of 748 systems nationwide currently share their schedule data with developers. This is public data paid for with public tax dollars and riders' wallets. The three largest systems who are data-hoarders, none other than New York City's MTA, New Jersey Transit and Metro-North, which serves the suburbs north of NYC. The Long Island Rail Road system comes in fifth, after the Chicago Transit Authority. (The embeddable widgets, and to top off its all-around goodness, it's combining information with advocacy--users are encouraged to email their local transit officials (the chairmen of the laggard systems are all listed by name), and Front Seat is collecting those names to build a larger base for open data organizing. The site code is all open source and the project is supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. To which all I can say is: w00t!