D.C. releases online data to developers

Posted on April 21, 2009 by METRO Staff

In late March, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority  (Metro) released technological data for the Metrorail and Metrobus routes, stops and schedules on its Website.

The raw data is available in a coded format, Google Transit Feed Specification, which can be used by anyone who wants to turn the information into a usable computer application, including businesses and Webmasters. The data can be accessed by visiting a page on their Website titled “Developer Resources” and clicking on the “Rider Tools” section.

Metro’s long-anticipated decision to provide the data to the public comes after a petition drive urged them to provide the data, and stalled negotiations with Google.

 The petition resulted in the Metro board of directors receiving more than 700 emails last fall. A Washington, D.C.-based blog on transportation and urban issues, Greater Greater Washington, organized the petition drive.

Metro and Google Transit were unable to reach an agreement last year to place Metro’s information on the mapping Website, according to the Washington Post.

 “Google had approached us months ago, and we were getting our data ready in preparation for possible agreement with them, but that didn’t work out,” Candace Smith, public affairs officer, confirmed.

After several months of work in various evolving stages on the project, Metro was able to move forward with releasing the data. The agency was investigating alternate solutions and looking into what other transit properties were doing to make data available, Smith explained.

 “We’re excited to see what kind of applications will come out of this… not only new ways for people to use transit, but just in general,” Smith said.

Currently, users can download the information at no cost. As part of Metro’s efforts to generate new revenue, the transit authority is taking a look at intellectual property, including schedule data, to determine whether there could be future revenue opportunities.

Metro also decided to move ahead with releasing the data in order to open up possibilities for more applications, in turn, making the data useful to more people, and hopefully, benefiting more riders.

“The beauty about making it available to everyone is that you don’t just have the big giant company who has an exclusive agreement. You get a lot more small fish and just regular people who want to use the information,” Smith said.

Those who plan to use the data must agree to Metro’s use of terms before they can download it, which includes exempting the transit agency from liability. The user is also responsible for keeping the information updated and accurate. Users can sign up for RSS feeds to be notified when the raw data has changed.

Whether Google Transit will end up using the data will be determined by Metro’s terms of use.

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