Today marks the launch of City-Go-Round, a new endeavor from Front Seat, the group responsible for the increasingly popular Walk Score. City-Go-Round identifies transit agencies around the country that have made their data open to software developers, inspiring those developers to create dozens of apps to help commuters move around their cities. The site’s goal, according to Front Seat founder and chairman Mike Mathieu, is to show the ways open data can help both the transit agency and the commuter, and thereby encourage more transit agencies to open up their data. The site features a search engine that shows all of the apps that work using open local transit data — and there’s also a “wall of shame,” a the list of agencies that don’t support open data. He took a moment during the launch to chat with NAC. [Update: On its first day in business, City-Go-Round added ten more apps and saw yet another major transit agency — St. Louis’s — open its data.]
What was the impetus for this project? Why did you decide it was necessary?
While we were gathering public transit data from over 80 transit agencies for Walk Score, we discovered two things. First, only 85 out of 748 U.S. transit agencies provide open data to software developers. Second, for the transit agencies that do provide open data there are some really amazing apps. We decided to build City-Go-Round to highlight all of the great apps built on open transit data and to call on transit agencies to open their data.
Which cities/agencies have been the most progressive in terms of releasing and leveraging open data?
Trimet in Portland was the first agency to provide open schedule data. Now we’re seeing agencies provide real-time arrival data for their transit systems. Rather than just seeing the schedule, you can see where the bus or train actually is right now and when it will arrive. There are only three cities with real-time arrival data: Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.
If, say, the MTA were to open its data, how would it help the transit-riding New Yorker?
Currently, Google is one of the few software developers with access to M.T.A.‘s schedule data. A few other developers have entered into licensing agreements with M.T.A. The great thing about opening up this data to more developers is that you can’t predict the innovations that will take place. That said, I’m sure you’d see apps that compared cab fare and subway fare and told you the cost and time difference between the two. Or an app that uses the iPhone compass to literally point you out the right subway exit and then in the right direction. Or real-time apps that would tell you whenever a bus or subway was delayed. For us, we can’t show nearby transit on Walk Score in New York City because we don’t have the time or money to negotiate a license with M.T.A. for their closed data.
Of the 60 or so apps that appear on the site now, which ones are your favorites?
I love the real-time arrival apps like One Bus Away. Knowing exactly when your bus will arrive and whether it’s late transforms your experience riding transit. It’s like your riding blind when you’re without one of these apps. I also love the augmented-reality transit system maps from Acrossair.
What can an urban citizen do to press his or her transit agency to release its data?
Sign the petition on City-Go-Round and then call your transit agency to request that they provide open data. Transit agencies don’t get many calls like this, so every call counts.