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The MTA is still working on real-time bus tracking

“It’s definitely coming,” an MTA rep told Transportation Techies on Monday night. The meetup also featured a presentation on what happened when the data was liberated the first time.

A few months after civic hackers liberated data from the MTA’s bus tracking app for open use, the transit agency has yet to make the real-time information about where buses are traveling public.
But it’s coming, an MTA official said this week.
“We are committed from the very beginning to publish this data openly,” MTA Director of Service Development Michael Walk told a meetup of Transportation Techies that was held to coincide with the Association of Commuter Transportation conference being held in Baltimore this week.

“The current schedule for releasing the data is by early 2016,” Walk said. He later added that, “It’s definitely coming.”

The debate over whether such public data should be opened up first or used for an app was very familiar to the crowd.

The MTA’s data for real-time bus tracking became a flashpoint in that debate over the winter after criticism started to mount about the bus tracker app. That conversation continued in a sense at the Monday night meetup, as civic hacker Chris Whong followed up Walk’s presentation with a talk on his work liberating the bus data before it was officially available.

Back in February, Devs and riders alike complained that it didn’t work to show where buses were located as designed. But civic hackers like Whong, Shea Frederick and Elliott Plack, jumped in to show that the data could be used by third parties. Since it was relying on the same data as the MTA bus tracker, the project lacked complete data, and has since gone dormant.

But the message for the government, Whong said, was to focus on making good data available, and leave the app building to the community. He was only confirmed in this notion when an app-building company from Montreal called Transit App used the data Whong made available to add Baltimore to its transit-tracking capabilities.

When the real-time data is published, it will be in the GTFS-realtime spec, which is specifically designed for transportation agencies. The state also made funding available for the data liberation project. Most of the work, Walk said, is with the data itself.

“There’s a lot of work and a lot of legacy systems that are old and disconnected and don’t transform the data very well between them, but it’s happening,” he said.

In the meantime, Walk also described some other spots where MTA makes data available:

  • Rate Your Ride: This site allows MTA riders to weigh in on their public transit experience. The data is open through the website, Walk said.
  • Data.Maryland.Gov: Ridership data for MTA and metro are published on the site every month. Light Rail numbers are difficult to accurately track due to the “open” boarding system, Walk said.
  • Maryland iMap: MTA publishes shape files of transit routes on the state’s GIS portal.
Companies: Maryland Transit Administration

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