Before embracing open data, transit agencies must first understand the changes that will be created within and external to the agency

Synthesis of the current state of the practice and policies in the use of open data for improved transit planning; service quality, customer information, and customer experience; implications of open data and open documentation policies; and their impact on transit agencies and public support.

Date Posted

Open Data: Challenges and Opportunities for Transit Agencies

Summary Information

This report focused the data review and survey on five major elements for Open Data.

  • Characteristics of open transit data
  • Legal and licensing issues and practices
  • Uses of open data
  • Cost and benefits of providing open data
  • Opportunities and Challenges of open data

For this study, a literature review, a survey of 67 select transit agencies and other stakeholders from around the world with 100 percent response rate, and detailed case examples or profiles were done to report on the state of the practice, including innovations, lessons learned, challenges, and gaps in information.

A review of the relevant literature in the field is combined with surveys of selected transit agencies and other appropriate stakeholders to report on the current state of the practice. Based on survey results, four case examples were developed to describe innovative and successful practices, as well as lessons learned and gaps in information.

Lessons Learned

The synthesis study was conducted in five major steps:

  1. A literature review was performed to identify the characteristics of open data; legal and licensing issues and practices; uses of open data; and the costs, benefits, challenges, and opportunities resulting from providing open data. See the References section for a list of sources.
  2. A survey was conducted to collect information on factors such as the reasons for choosing to provide open data; standards and protocols being used; public disclosure practices; customer applications and other data uses; techniques for engaging actual and potential users and reusers of the data; and challenges associated with providing open data. In addition, information regarding the impacts on transit agencies and the public and private sectors was explored through the survey.
  3. The survey results were documented and summarized.
  4. Telephone interviews were conducted with key personnel at four agencies and organizations that have significant experience with providing open data; case examples from those four agencies are presented in chapter seven.
  5. The results and conclusions were prepared and documented.

Lessons Learned:

Maintain data quality and accuracy is critical to success but, requires work.

  • Quality checks need to be in place when opening data. Start small and work to larger data sets to reduce costs. It is important to have good clean data so external users will understand and use it.

Plan for Open Data costs.

  • More than three-quarters of respondents reported that staff time is required to update, fix and maintain the data and almost 70 percent reported that internal staff time is required to convert the data to an open format. Use Standards where possible to make it easier to provide the data.

Determining open data costs is difficult.

  • Almost 90 percent of respondents indicated they cannot quantify time spent on open data activities. Internal cost by agencies on open data work is not directly tracked by staff and even software support costs are rarely tracked. About 95 percent of respondents could not identify the actual costs of the work and only one agency reported a monthly cost of $1,500.

Recognize that open data will create changes within and external to the agency.

  • There is a shift that agencies have to get comfortable with; from providing solutions to providing data; Open data will not solve every customer requirement, and agencies will still have to stay in the game (e.g., SMS, accessible services); Customers are smart, they can tell which third-party services are best, and they will not hold the agency responsible for third-party services that are poor; It is important that agencies not interfere with the market to ensure that the benefits of competition can be realized.

Determine the benefits of open data.

  • More than 75 percent of respondents reported open data increased their awareness of services and about 75 percent reported that it empowered their customers and encouraged innovation outside of the agency. Other benefits included opportunities for private businesses, encouraged innovation internally, improved market reach, and increased ROI on web services.

Engage and develop relationships with developers and users.

  • Early engagement with potential users is key. Find out what they want and how they want it. Try and track who is developing what, particularly to understand the successes and failures; More than two-thirds of respondents stated that they engaged or have dialogues with existing and potential data users with the open data. This provided feedback on data anomalies and quality, allowed the data to be exposed to wider audiences, and explored the demand for the data.
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