Simplifying the Open Transit Debate: White Paper

Mentor Engineering released a white paper “Simplifying the Open Transit Debate.”  For the curious, you can download a PDF, or read an HTML version.

The paper summarizes many of the benefits of open data — time saved, agency image benefits, improved customer service, ridership increase, and free application development.

It misses some important points though.  One is that open data facilitates greater and more successful innovation because it provides opportunity for low-cost (or free) failure.  Think of it this way: more developers = more projects/experiments/innovation = competition between them = successes and failures.  This idea is further developed in Thoughts on ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of organizing without organizations’.

Also, I wish the paper provided a more thorough and direct discussion of what they offer as an often cited disadvantage of open data:

The only negative some agencies see in providing their data to the public is the elimination of potential revenue from selling the data to developers. However, because the data is generated by taxpayer-funded agencies, the general consensus is that agencies should not profit from this data. Agencies that kept their data closed in hopes of selling it, such as New York City’s MTA—who recently released their data—have experienced extensive backlash from both the developer community and transit passengers.

Are there agencies that profit from selling their data?  I think a few may generate revenue from advertising on their websites.  However, this revenue is usually insignificant, and should be weighed against the benefits of open data.  3rd party applications and information sources may lead a few eyeballs away from the agency website and compromise ad revenue, but they are likely to support ridership and fare revenue growth.

Oh, and I was pleased an interview I conducted with TriMet’s CTO and IT Manager for GIS and Location Based Services was cited in a few places in the paper.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.