Transit Score Shows the Power of Open Government Data

Seattle based Front Seat software launched a new service to rank public transit for an area. The service almost perfectly illustrates the value of open government data. The "Transit Score" offers a handy location score that's compelling because transportation is a major factor in picking an affordable place to live.

Transit Score is integrated into Front Seat's Walk Score website and is available to developers through the Public Transit API. The online realty service ZipRealty.com announced that it had integrated Transit Score into its listing website shortly after launch. The service covers 40 urban cities and continues the recent trend in transit agencies opening their data to developers. Let's examine how each player benefits from arrangement.

Front Seat's website states that it only works on projects that fit its values. It focuses on sustainability, local communities, equal opportunity, and media and government transparency. In the case of Transit Score they are consuming transit data from local governments provided though the GTFS data exchange. GTFS, which stands for General Transit Feed Standard, was originally created by Google (in fact, as O'Reilly Radar notes, the G used to stand for Google).

Front Seat can build a compelling and useful transit API because the standard is open and multiple cities are available. It creates value for it's Public Transit API customers by bridging the gaps between those different organizations in a way that government would find almost impossible to duplicate. Front Seat also creates value for the communities that have contributed data because they can access Transit Score through it's website for free. The chief benefit for Front Seat is making a living while contributing to things it feels good about.

Local transit authorities and government officials benefit because they have fostered a low cost solution on top of data they need to produce anyway. Citizens in their communities can make smarter and more sustainable choices about where to live. Governments have a responsibility to educate people about transit options and increase ridership. They can show that open data has helped them meet those goals.

Companies like ZipReality can offer greater value directly to their customers by integrating the Public Transit API. They have a stronger brand as a green brokerage that can help customers save money on transportation. The cost of the service is shared with other subscribers making it cheaper as more sign on.

Citizens are happy because they get the benefit of their tax dollars continuing to work well beyond the original data and services. They also can use the Transit Score service to make better choices in a difficult economy. Everyone wants to get to work faster.

Does this scenario seem too rosy? There are 698 transit organizations that do not engage developers, use the GTFS standards, or offer open data at all. Transit Score is successful because it focuses on transit organizations that want developers building applications on their data. The benefits to contributing communities seem pretty clear. If you work at one of those 698 organizations without public data I would like to understand what the barriers are. Please contribute to this story by sharing your experience in comments.

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