Upgrading Transit's Interface: Metro Releases Google Transit Data
That page offers a download of Metro's bus and rail schedules in Google Transit Feed Specification format, ready for any developer to download and reuse in a Web page or in a standalone program. (At the moment, clicking through the user agreement on the page only sends you back to the user agreement, but I'm sure somebody at Metro will correct that soon enough. Right?)
In the same way that Web developers have used Google Maps tools to build crafty sites charting everything from real-estate sales to campaign donations, people will be able to build Web sites, widgets and programs using Metro's data in ways that the company hasn't thought of and may never dream up on its own.
For a sense of the possibilities, look over this interview from last year, in which two managers in Portland, Oregon's Tri-Met transit agency explain how independent developers and other government agencies are building useful software and services off their data feeds with minimal cost and effort.
Another example comes in this morning's post on Greater Greater Washington, a development-and-transportation-issues blog that has been lobbying Metro for months to offer a GTFS data feed (GGW founder David Alpert is a former Google employee). The developers of Walk Score, a nifty site that grades the pedestrian compatibility of neighborhoods, plan to use Metro's data to build "transit time maps" showing where Metro can take you in 45 minutes from particular locations in the Washington area.
(Incidentally, this story provides an interesting case study of how the Web is changing the distribution of news. The news of Metro's decision came in a comment on an unrelated GGW post by regular site contributor Michael Perkins, who was watching a live Webcast of a Metro board meeting at the time. Metro then confirmed the change on its Facebook page nine days before putting up a press release.)
Metro resisted the idea of providing an open feed of its schedules for too long. As an everyday passenger, I applaud the agency's recognition that it doesn't have a monopoly on good ideas about presenting its services. In case WMATA's management isn't done looking for ways to improve transit's user interface, might I suggest they make an even bigger upgrade by finally replacing their nearly-random assortment of bus route names with monikers that actually say something about the origin or destination of a given bus?
March 23, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture
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