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Viennese Transport Authority to Release Transit Data in Response to Online Petition

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, March 29 2013

The Viennese Transit Authority Wiener Linien announced Friday that it will make its transit data available to third parties this summer after coming under pressure from an online petition started by two developers.

According to the City of Vienna, it will be the largest authority in the German-speaking world releasing such data.

On March 22, the two developers, Robert Harm, board member of Austrian Open Data group Open3, and Patrick Wolowicz, had started an official petition with the city demanding that the authority release such data. Within five days, they had reached the required 500 signatures to have the issue addressed by the municipal council. In the mean time they have gathered over 800 signatures, as techPresident noted yesterday.

As part of their effort, the developers had pointed to several applications that could go live immediately if the data were available.

At the beginning of March, one developer received a copyright desist notice from Wiener Linien for including its data in an Android schedule application without permission, Der Standard had reported. The application had drawn from the same database Wiener Linien uses for its own schedule application. He told Der Standard that he would comply with the order because he didn't want to get involved in a court trial, although the application had been been downloaded 70,000 times, had seen 50,000 schedule requests and had over 19,000 active users at its busiest times.

On March 24, a spokesperson for the authority told Der Standard that it was still working on a strategy to make data available.

Die Presse had reported that the authority had concerns about security and whether the authority would be held legally responsible if applications did not function or update properly.

Today, Wiener Linien made the announcement in a blog post with the title "We have understood."

"The immense interest in our data has really surprised in the past few days," the authority writes in its blog post. It explains that it will work out some technical and legal issues with its partners before making the data available in the summer.

In explaining why it did not release the data earlier, the authority said it had not been idle, already participating in many discussions in the past months and looking at international best practice examples. The authority also notes that it already has an Open Data point person on its staff in contact with developers and its leadership, and that it had been impressed at the interest among developers when it participated in a weekend Wiener Linien Create Camp in January, a visit coordinated by Harms.

"In only one weekend many great new apps were generated that are waiting for the release of data from our side," the authority writes in his blog post. "It was supposed to go one step at a time. Still, the news reports of the last few days have shown that this topic is a burning issue for many people. That's why we have decided together with the City of Vienna that we need to act faster than intended. Of course one can see the release of data also as a risk for the organization — we are after all the largest German-speaking transit authority that will release its data — still we are convinced that the release of the data will result in many forward-looking solutions for the people of Vienna and for us as an organization."

Die Presse reported that the Viennese Vice-Mayor and Executive City Councillor of Finance, Economic Affairs and Public Utilities Renate Brauner had ordered the authority to find a solution against the backdrop of the petition. The City of Vienna already makes its data available at data.wien.gv.at

Harm and Wolowicz enthusiastically welcomed the news in a blog post with the headline "Breakthrough" and call it a "great day for Open Data in Austria."

But they caution that the effort is not yet at the end of the line, noting that details about what data the authority will release are still missing. They write that developers would be especially interested in real-time departure and route information as well as station information and route plans. They also emphasize that its important for the data to be released under a Creative Commons license. "But we assume that Wiener Linien will work with the community as it has promised," they write. "In many other Austrian states the transit authorities still have reservations about Open Data. We hope that today's developments make waves there and are evaluating what kind of actions we can take outside of Vienna."

On their petition page, they noted that up until now, only Linz, the third-largest Austrian city, had made departure and route data available to third parties.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.