Earlier this week, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer wrote a public letter to interim MTA CEO Helena Williams advocating for open public transit data. Though Councilwomen Brewer does not have direct political influence over the MTA as it’s a state-based agency, she makes a strong argument for open transit data. Indeed, Councilwoman Brewer, who chairs the Committee on Technology in Government, is no stranger to the issue and has been at the forefront of the movement for open data in New York for some time (most notably, earlier this year she introduced Int 991, which would require city agencies to make the data they produce publicly accessible in a raw format).
Councilwoman Brewer’s letter hits on several important aspects of the issue, but it sums up perhaps the most important point particularly nicely:
Opening transit data would require almost no capital investment by the MTA, while the application developers would return innovative tools of immense everyday value to the public at minimal expense.
That’s the key. At a time when budgets are tight and everyone is trying to figure out how to do more with less, open data is an essential tool that would provide tremendous value with little or no cost to the agency or taxpayers. With nothing more than a change in policy, the MTA could unleash the creative and entrepreneurial potential of thousands of New Yorkers and help make our subway and bus systems easier and more efficient to use and navigate.
Let’s hope Councilwoman Brewer’s call to action is given the fair consideration it deserves. And let’s hope that incoming MTA CEO Jay Walder — who is likely to be confirmed by the senate this week — takes this issue to heart and makes it a top priority.