MTA fires back on bus tracking: 'we are working on it' - Technical.ly Baltimore

Civic

Feb. 26, 2015 12:03 pm

MTA fires back on bus tracking: ‘we are working on it’

After being one upped by civic hackers and a Montreal-based company, transit officials tell their side of the story in a new blog post.

An MTA bus.

(Photo by Flickr user Ken, used under a Creative Commons license)

The MTA is planning to make its bus tracking data more user friendly, after all.

MTA's bus tracking website, on an iPhone. (Image courtesy of MTA)

MTA’s bus tracking website. (Courtesy image)

In a blog post responding to civic hackers’ release of the data and Transit App’s use of it, MTA officials said they’re working on it.

The blog post’s title? “Did civic hackers save the MTA $600,000 in one day? Not quite, but we are glad they tried.

Read the full post

“We are happy to report that our engineers have been working for weeks to figure out a way to move the data we made possible into a secure enough environment in which third party developers can safely make use of it without compromising our system,” the post states. “While we’re not ready to divulge the time-frame, we are getting close.”

Civic hacker Chris Whong made the data available on GitHub soon after the bus tracking program was released. The MTA post acknowledges that those efforts “have helped us speed this announcement up.” Officials also say that their first priority is making the information available to customers, rather than releasing the data for public use — hammering home the main point of disagreement between the agency and civic hackers.

Right now, the data hasn’t been released because it’s not in GTFS-RT format, which the MTA says is standard among transit developers. The system that reports the bus locations pre-dates Google, so they didn’t need to initially convert the data to GTFS-RT. The MTA officials write that they didn’t move sooner to convert data from the current reporting system because it would cost $600,000. Instead, they want to invest in a new system.

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The MTA calls Transit App’s efforts a “pleasant surprise,” and says it welcomes private-sector efforts “to improve upon what we’ve already done.”

But the officials also put in a word for their own web app, saying it provides text, email and phone alerts, as well as support from MTA agents.

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