Trying to unlock transit data

Something that has been bothering me somewhat these last few months is transit data and how we as a community can have access to it. Here in Phoenix, we are unlucky enough not to have access to Google Transit, Valley Metro is locked in to the 1990’s with their system and you should see how bad the mobile version is. So many of us here have been trying to free the Valley Metro data to get it incorporated into OpenStreetMap or even Google Transit. Since I’m not blogging about how successful that effort has been, you can guess that we are stuck back in the last decade still.

But that isn’t the whole story right? Just getting transit data into Google Transit is great for users of Google services, but not good for the community at large. Google has been really good at getting data locked up behind government bureaucracy, but they’ve done nothing to help free this data beyond using their own APIs. But at the same time, is this Google’s responsibility? Google seems to say they try to get people to share it, but it isn’t their job. I think I tend to agree with them. If an organization is willing to share data with Google, why aren’t they willing to share it with the public? That is where these organizations fall down and it would appear where public transit is a huge problem.

Public transit organizations are looking at protecting their data from being used by others. It isn’t everyone, but it does send a message that if you as a member of the riding public want to access public data, you need to do so under an application approved by that transit organization. I find it amazing that DMCA can be applied to public data and it should send chills to anyone who wants to use data they as a taxpayer are funding. Google is able to negotiate deals because they have the money and the eyeballs that transit organizations want. I just don’t like the path that we seem headed down where if I want to access public data that I helped create… I need to do so using a commercial API and possibly have to pay a vendor (paying twice is a tax on a tax) the right to use what should be free.

Keep away from that slope, you won’t like where it will lead!

Stay away from that slope, you wont like where it will lead! / CC BY-SA 2.0

Leave a Reply