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StreetFilms' Introduction to Transit Data

BY Nick Judd | Monday, August 2 2010

The folks at StreetFilms, part of OpenPlans, today released a video argument in favor of public transit authorities releasing the data they gather in the course of operations.

Major public transit authorities across the country, in cities like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and New York City, have embraced this idea. The result, they say, is that communities of developers have built applications on top of that data that make commuting easier — without protracted and costly procurement processes. It's the central pitch of the Gov 2.0 movement: A more transparent and participatory government that is simultaneously smaller and more efficient.

Among the highlights of this video: While so many people in the Gov 2.0 and open data communities are discussing buses and trains, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase says that data coming from cars is "going into the wind."

"Imagine how much innovation we would get if there were an open black box in cars," Chase says. "Car sharing would be one application, better routing would be another."

And New York's top public transit official, Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Jay Walder, bluntly says in the video that the MTA was wrong in keeping its data — which can include anything from train schedules to the locations of station exits — out of public view for so long.

"The MTA has, for too long, really, pushed the development community away," Walder says.

In recent months, the MTA has started working with developers to pick datasets and hosted events to get developer input.

"It's a night and day difference from last year when developers were being sued for using this data, to this year, when the MTA is encouraging developers to use this data," OpenPlans' Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock says in the video.

For anyone who isn't up to speed on the movement to get public transit authorities across the country to share with the world the data they collect in the course of operations, it's a pretty succinct introduction.

Cash-strapped cities and states across the country have embraced open data, and its attendant new applications, as an opportunity to improve public transit without spending a whole lot of money at a time when budget cuts are on the rise. Members of the Gov 2.0 tribe — to which OpenPlans, which is focused on how technology can improve government infrastructure and especially transportation, belongs — are emphasizing this success as they spread the gospel of government-as-a-platform to people in other aspects of local governance.