The Growing Importance of an Open-Data Commons for Mobility
What should a developer who wants to get started building transportation applications do?
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Public transit data was one of the first data sets in what’s known today as “smart cities” or the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The simple reason was that publishing a transit schedule in machine-readable format, or providing real-time tracking over a cellular data connection, is pretty cheap, relative to the cost of a subway train or bus.
Transit quickly became one of the best examples of open data. Civic leaders at transit agencies, like Portland’s TriMet, found that if they packaged data in a standard format, developers could use it to make better user experiences than transit agencies could offer. The GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) standard for transit schedules was originally created by TriMet and Google to solve the problem of sharing data between agencies and developers. Now, many agencies worldwide use the same data standard.
This consistent and reliable data standard allows developers of all skill levels to interact with and create public transportation applications. So, what should a developer who wants to get started building transportation applications do? Whether you’re a public transit user, advocate for cities, or just looking to scratch a personal itch — you’ll need code, but you’ll also need data you can use.
For code, there are a few places you can start. If you’re on the analytics/data science side, the Open Transit Data Toolkit, a new tutorial with exercises in R is a great way to get started. If you’re more of an app developer, there are open-source codebases like Transportr and OneBusAway and a tutorial from PubNub.
For data, rather than going out and finding it on hundreds of cities and transit agencies’ open data and developer pages, OpenMobilityData was recently relaunched as the single data commons for transit data, like OpenStreetMap is for maps and geodata. The site supports both the GTFS and GTFS-Realtime data standards and currently serves six million data requests annually for nearly 1,000 transit data feeds from 39 countries.
Why is a data commons so essential? As cities around the world focus more on enhancing their forward-thinking, sustainable efforts, making sure any data about how people move around cities is publicly available is going to be important now more than ever.
It should be simple for developers to find mobility information in one place, where they have access to almost any transit agency’s routes, stops, and historical data. The ability to sign up for the developer API and pull data directly into applications removes another barrier to getting this data out into the public.
With the proliferation of real-time information about mobility options, people will start getting these updates in their pockets — which will help provide the behavioral nudge toward smarter, more sustainable decisions. It’s good for individuals, and for the cities and world we live in.
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