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Alexander Howard

Alexander Howard

Posted: March 5, 2011 11:16 AM

Today in New York City, the attendees of TransportationCamp will look for ways to build a better to and fro.

Technologists, trains fans, government workers and East Coast civic hackers have gathered for a sold out two-day unconference at the New York Law School Institute for Information Law and Policy. TransportationCamp East.

They've come together to discuss how the modern transit system can be improved, focusing on the intersection between technology, citizens, public data and government.

Around the United States, there has been a blossoming of innovation in the city transit sector, driven by the passion of citizens and fueled by the release of real-time transit data by their city governments. These efforts have a long way to go, given challenges of driving interoperability standards to address the break of gauge. As open government moves from theory to practice, what lies ahead for Gov 2.0 will include more innovation in opening transit data as a platform for civic innovation.

In many cities, the future of open transit data is already around us, but the promise has yet to be fully realized. The case for open data in transit is made in the video below:

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

An "open data project that I'm fond of that started very early in the open government process is GTFS, the General Transit Feed Specification," said Tim O'Reilly.

That's the data standard that lets transit districts feed their bus and train arrival times to applications like Google Transit, or any of the many smartphone apps that help you plan your trip on public transit. This standard started as a collaboration between Google and the city of Portland, but is now available from many cities. It's a great example of how governments can think like platform providers. They have to equip their buses and trains with GPS, and report out the data. They could report it just to their own bus stops and train stations, or they could make it available to third parties to deliver in a hundred ways. Which is better for citizens? It's pretty obvious."

For passionate civic advocates like Laurel Ruma, a colleague at O'Reilly Media, getting real-time transit data in Boston was better than winning the World Series. (That might have been a harder sell in 2003, but table that for now). The decision to release and support open transit data online has spawned a new ecosystem of mobile applications, many of which are featured at MBTA.com. The addition of real-time transit data could add more value to the apps offering help for MBTA riders that went online in 2009, like the Mass Transit app that has been making money for SparkFish Creative.

It's that kind of economic value creation combined with civic utility and accountability that has many people in the open government community excited. "Transportation has been a breakout segment of the "Gov 2.0" space over the last several years -- it's an issue with direct impacts on every citizen, and an area where we are seeing tons of innovation right now," said Nick Grossman, director of civic works at OpenPlans. "Agencies are re-thinking their tech and data strategies, entrepreneurs and "civic hackers" are building tools at a furious rate, and the public is benefiting in tangible ways. We are excited to bring together many of the players in the space for two weekends of discussing, debating, and building at TransportationCamp."

The unconference organizers posted the discussion topics online before Transportation Camp kicked off, so virtual onlookers and on-site participants alike can get a flavor of interests that range from walking to to cycling to ride sharing. (No evidence of transit via horse, mule nor camel was to be found, no doubt because of the changing face of New York City, versus their utility.)

2011-03-05-bigboardtransportationcamp.jpg

"We are honored to be partnering with former White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck and the Do Tank & Democracy Design Workshop at New York Law School, said Grossman. "Beth's and the Do Tank's work has been an inspiration for all forms of collaborative work around civic issues, governance, and democracy."

TransportationCamp West will be in San Francisco March 19-20. Both of the unconferences are sponsored by NYC-based nonprofit OpenPlans. "

"TransportationCamp is all about building connections across a widespread sector, from public officials, to software developers, to academics, to urban advocates and interested citizens," said Grossman. "We hope to not only address some immediate issues (such as working on technical data standards), but also plant the seed for longer-term partnerships."

Luke Fretwell captured an extensive Q&A with Grossman, were he talks more about TransportationCamp's objectives and transportation's impact on the bigger issues around Gov 2.0 and open government.

Follow @transpocamp and the #transpo hashtag on Twitter today and over the coming weeks to watch the discussion data unfold in real-time.

Frank Hebert posted a recap of Saturday morning at Transportation Camp at the camp blog.

 

Follow Alexander Howard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/digiphile