Transit Authority Rejects Openness, Thumbs Nose at Web

Everyday, I travel the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority – usually on the DC area trains, but occasionally on local buses and commuter rails as well. Increasingly, I am frustrated by the ability of the transit system to handle schedules, broken escalators, delays and weather conditions and a myriad of other challenges that should be met handsomely by the mass transit system of the capital city of the United States.

At one time, the Washington Metro system was considered one of the finest in the country but as the region has exploded and ridership increases, the antiquated “single track” systems that does not allow for such things as “Express Trains” (as they have in NYC), the ubiquitous broken escalators (I’m convinced that at any given time, 33% of Metro escalators are out of service) and the pitiful hours of operation (that assumes that the only time people are in the city are work hours) has turned the system into a laughable system. An overqualified system, with underqualified management.

But my unhappiness with the Metro system is not the point of this post, except to highlight the inability of a multi-jurisdictional system to manage itself appropriately. The real segue here is to point to the mismanagement of the WMATA’s technical prowess.

Going Underground
Image by Son of Groucho via Flickr

According to Greater Greater Washington, the WMATA has terminated conversations with Google over a refusal by the internet search giant to pay for data having to do with transit schedules for it’s Google Transit service. Google Transit provides a way for users to map their routes from point A to point B using a combination of driving, mass transit and walking directions.

The premise for the argument is that WMATA is attempting to monetize their own website and data and fears that Google will undermine its own ability to monetize.

As DCist points out, even though WMATA has a new user interface for their site, it performs slowly and schedule information is still tucked away in PDFs.

Time and again, it has been proven that the world operates in an open environment on the web. Open access encourages innovation. It also floats talent to the top. Just ask the Summize guys who, after only a few months of existence as a company operating on the open Twitter API, were acquired by Twitter simply due to their massive talent. Ask the SocialThing guys who, although the API-mashup service itself sucked, were acquired by AOL for the talent-base.

Peter Corbett, of iStrategyLabs who has consulted for the Office of the Chief Technology Office for the District, says that what people don’t realize is that there is realtime data not being exposed anywhere including realtime GPS data for every bus in the city. This data is crucial for real time mapping, something that is not currently done anywhere.

There also seems to be a significant customer outcry against this lack of openness and transparency and one wonders what a massive sit-in protest that ground the Metro Center train station to a halt during the Inauguration would do. Technosailor.com would happily sponsor such an event.