Does NextBus Own Real-Time Muni Data?

Picture_2.pngCourtesy: SF Appeal

Last week I tried to download the real-time transit data application Routesy from the Apple Store, only to find that the Store didn’t carry it. Some friends had recommended the application as an improvement over iBART and iMuni, which only provide the static schedules published by the transit operators, not real-time data. I wasn’t too pressed to find the application at the time, though, so I didn’t investigate further and didn’t realize there is a very interesting story behind why Apple yanked the app from the store.

The SF Appeal yesterday published an excellent story about a financial and licensing battle raging over proprietary control of real-time Muni data, one that pits the Routesy developer against a subsidiary of NextBus, NextBus Information Systems (NBIS), which claims rights to Muni real-time data. (SF Weekly also ran a detailed story about this today.)

From SF Appeal, NBIS wrote in an email to Apple:

We demand that you do not approve any updates for the App Store application "Routesy" until the application developer has licensed the NextBus real-time prediction data from us, or removes the use of NextBus data from his application. As I have mentioned numerous times in our previous discussions, NextBus Information Systems Inc. is the sole agent for commercial use of the NextBus real-time prediction data in the United States and has exclusive rights to distribution of this data to mobile phones. The Routesy application downloads and republishes this copyrighted data which is damaging to us.

Problem is, the MTA doesn’t think its real-time Muni data is proprietary, nor that anyone should be making it more difficult to get access to that data. MTA Spokesperson Judson True said that Muni owns the
data in question and that the public should have access to
it. He went further to say that Muni is trying to make their real-time data more accessible to the public, not less.

Check out the article and come back here to tell us what you think. I’m intrigued to see what comes of this situation.

  • Thanks for the update – I was wondering what happened to my app! I guess the real question is who has paid for everything. If the taxpayers (via MUNI) payed for the hardware installation on buses and software to track everything, then we should own the data. It’s like saying Microsoft owns anything made using Word of Excel.

  • I pay a few dollar for Routesy and it doesn’t work anymore. NextBus has never provided public data feed to third party application developers. All mashup applications are just hacking NextBus’s interface and they risk to be yanked any time. I’m glad that Muni come forward to clarify this. They should definitely smack NextBus’s head. Muni pay them to collect and generate the data and it should be available for the public. They are trying to monoploized the applications. As far as I can tell the applications they come up are not so great. There are a lot of kids who can do much better job if you provide them the data.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    The XML data from NextBus’s web service has this at the top:

    body copyright=”All data copyright NextBus 2009. Allowed use is for noncommercial purposes only.”

    That seems like an explicit license. If Routesy was free it would probably fall under that.

  • RachaelL

    I too have a copy of Routesy. I bought it not long after I got my iphone (in December) and as soon as they updated it to the new version a month or so ago that included BART times and bookmarks I got that one. I use it regularly and the newer version is IMO the best app I’ve seen for this kind of information. The craptastic interface provided at the Next Muni web page isn’t even in the same ballpark as far as usefulness.

    I was very sad to see Routesy become unusable and it’s made my ability to get around by Muni harder — I liked being able to just walk out my door then figure out the best bus stop to go to (since I could load my bookmarks screen and see predictions for all the stops near me). I hope this gets cleared up soon.

  • RachaelL

    Jeffrey- actually the person who makes Routesy offered to make it a free app but NBIS wouldn’t go for it. In any case, NBIS is trying to charge the public for the right to make better use of publicly paid for data. Routesy is a genuinely improved way to access that data and deserves a bit of compensation. And NBIS apparently wanted Routesy to pay $1 for every download (on a $3 app … not all of which goes to the dev since Apple gets a cut) which is absurd for something that should be pretty freely usable.

  • brianna hoffner

    I’m curious what kind of deal MUNI/MTA has with NB regarding the info. I could easily see MUNI offering to allow NB to have exclusive rights to the data in exchange for a discount on the tracking system…

  • If you have an iphone all you have to do is go to the nextmuni website and add the website to your home screen. By adding the website to your home screen you have made yourself a pseudo app. I’m sure you can purchase something fancy or maybe get something for free off of itunes displaying muni routes and arrival times, but what I did was simple and I get the arrival times directly from next bus.

  • marcos

    It seems that NextBus has control over the “real time prediction data.” Does this mean that the derived predictions are proprietary but the real time vehicle status is in the public domain?

    It shouldn’t take much to write an app that generates predictions based on real time bus GPS data.

    -marc

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    The predictions are horse hockey anyway. In my (admittedly gross) nextmuni hacks I always ignore the predictions.

  • RachaelL

    Huh. I’ve usually found them mostly reliable. They’ll be weird times where the next bus goes from 3 minutes to 18 then a few minutes later it’s down to 3. I attribute this to either some actual holdup that makes the prediction system think it’s really going to be a while or maybe a bus that isn’t being picked up for a while (and thus it’s the bus *after* the next one that the service lists a next time for). But the vast majority of time I’ve found it accurate to within a couple minutes (buses almost never come a couple minutes earlier than predicted.) and often accurate basically to the minute.

  • But MUNI could have contract them to provide arrival prediction and retain the right to the data. When you hire an accounting firm to do number crunching, you own the result and not the accounting firm, right? They are just contractors. If they’re asking for too much dollar, just open source the historical and real time database. Someone will come forward to do a better prediction than them.

  • Thanks for the update. It’s really very help full update for the user.

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