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NY MTA Opens Data, General Transit Feed Specification Formalized

As we've reported, [2] the last bastion of closed transit data had been the New York Metropolitan region, served by the nation's largest transit operator, the NYMTA, which is comprised of the Long Island Railroad, Metro North Railroad, and the NYC subways system. Today, with the redesign of its website, the NYMTA also opened its data to third party developers and unveiled its new Developer Resources page.

The agency's new policy -- a major turnaround -- does away with time-consuming data-sharing procedures and burdensome licensing requirements that had stymied many third-party developers.

"We need to get out of our own way and instead get out in front of the data sharing revolution," NYMTA Chair Jay Walder said in a statement. "By making access to our data directly from our website, we are encouraging the developer community to do the work we can’t to create apps that benefit our customers at no cost to the MTA."

The NYMTA coordinated its data transparency measure with Google's announcement that it has formally changed the name [3] of the industry standard data format from "Google" to "General" Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).

"Google applauds the MTA's efforts to open up their route and schedule data to all app developers," said Joe Hughes, lead developer of GTFS at Google.

Hughes added, "Today's release of the MTA data, combined with all the other data that has already been opened up, means that the vast majority of transit routes in the US are now available as open GTFS data. Even though there are many agencies here and abroad who are still on the fence, I think it's increasingly clear that opening up transit data to app developers is a very cost-effective way to improve the quality of life for transit riders."

Advocates for open data are optimistic that the changes will create an environment where the development of transit applications can flourish, and transit riders will reap the benefits.

"I'm heartened to see the MTA acknowledge the value of the developer community to the agency and transit riders, and can't wait to see the innovative apps that will surely result from the release of this data," said Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, a project manager at The Open Planning Project who had urged the MTA to open its data [4] (TOPP is Streetsblog's parent organization).

Today's announcement signals a dramatic turnaround from the days when developers had to submit freedom of information requests to get data out of the MTA and the agency's intellectual property lawyers threatened to sue developers [5]. As the nation's largest transit agency, the MTA also sets a highly visible example. "The MTA's release of open data sends a clear message to agencies throughout the country: It's time to open up," said Bergson-Shilcock.

""We're thrilled New York City opened their transit data," said Matt Lerner, Chief Technology Officer at City-Go-Round, a non-profit that advocates for open transit data and whose website prominently features a list [6] of the ten largest transit agencies without open data policies.

"Now New Jersey Transit is in the hot seat as the largest agency with no open data," added Lerner.