Agencies can use Open-Source Software (OSS) to respond flexibly and efficiently to stakeholder needs; although additional training may be required, the low cost and adaptability of OSS offer great benefits.
Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) experience with Open-Source Software for ITS.
Date Posted

Open Source Software in Public Transportation: A Case Study

Summary Information

Public transportation agencies increasingly use software to support mobility services. This may include trip planners, geocoders, and timetables. A report at the 2020 TRB conference by analysts at the Center for Urban Transportation Research performed a study looking at how open-source software (OSS) has evolved into production deployments at transit agencies, including a look at the risks and opportunities when compared to closed-source software. To research this area, the analysts interviewed over a dozen public and private sector stakeholders, reviewed Federal Transit Administration's Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox projects, and investigated perceived risks of OSS. They developed a list of recommendations based on their research.

Lessons Learned

The paper noted some key lessons learned for OSS:

  • Greater control and faster response to strategic software development priorities. Agencies using OSS may have much closer control over their deployment strategies and may freely choose to adapt their usage as they see fit.
  • OSS can help avoid increasing licensing costs of proprietary subscription solutions, but requires expertise to deploy. Because OSS is necessarily free of cost, it may present an alternative path to deployment for budget-conscious agencies, however, some additional training may be required.
  • OSS can help avoid vendor lock-in. Because it is publicly available, agencies do not need to commit to lengthy contracts. The authors noted that TriMet's Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox project, in which the agency transitioned to an open-source replacement for a proprietary system whose developer shut down, was a good example of an agency using OSS to mitigate external impacts on a project by vendors.
  • OSS may be more responsive and flexible to needs. Because of the availability of its source code, OSS is, in many circumstances, extensible and customizable to agencies' specific use cases. This can offer a greater degree of customization than with paid software.
  • OSS supports increased cost sharing & collaboration opportunities among transit agencies. As OSS is easy and free for agencies to begin using, multiple agencies may coordinate their transition to use OSS in order to allow for effective skill-sharing and to maximize the effect of training on the new systems. Additionally, the public nature of public transportation funding strongly aligns with the concept of collaboration and resource sharing that underlie the tenets of OSS.

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