Ideas in Action:
Open Transit Data

As Nick Grossman says in the opening of the short film The Case for Open Transit Data, “transportation touches everybody’s lives everyday.”

“Open” transit data is a relatively new idea for improving transportation in our cities. Transit agencies in many places–if not most–do not share their data with outside groups. But in cities where transit agencies opened their data several years ago, the move has led to an incredible array tools that span the digital divide – text for transit information services, smart phone apps, websites, real-time arrival signage displays at transit stops and businesses along transit routes, and even tools specifically for passengers with disability like integrating transit data into Braille Note to serve the visually impaired.

The value of open transit data is intuitive. “Think about all the different ways that you can find out whether it’s going to rain,” says Chris Dempsey in the aforementioned video. “You can get it on TV, on the radio, on the internet, you can get it on your smartphone and you never have to pay for it. And the reason that that’s true is because the National Weather Service is open.”

Transport for NOLA, an advocate in New Orleans, successfully used Neighborland demonstrate the wide public support for open transit data earlier this year. They we’re able to convince the RTA to open their schedule and route data almost immediately, and secured a commitment to open real-time GPS location data as soon as possible. Transport for NOLA’s success is a testament to the power of combining transparent public opinion with the personal relationships cultivated by full-time advocates.

As part of GOOD Ideas for New Orleans, local developer Joel Carrazana and his teammates used that data to create a trip planning mobile website and text service to plan combined transit and bike trips. BikeBusNOLA.com is now live and riders can text (504) 322–4900 for directions.

Now, real-time data is available from the RTA. It is the culmination of remarkable work by advocates, RTA staff, and others. But the release of the RTA’s real-time data this week is just the beginning.  Transport for NOLA’s Rachel Heiligman explains:  “Now that the data is open, the rest lies in the hands of NOLA’s gifted and growing tech community.”

For those of you in New Orleans, Transport for NOLA and the RTA are hosting a training for software developers interested in using the agency’s transit data:

When:  Thursday, August 9, 2012 @ 5:30pm

Where:  New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Headquarters – 2817 Canal Street