As part of operating the transportation system, transportation agencies collect a wealth of data on travel conditions that are of use to other government agencies and private firms interested in providing information to travelers. To understand how the public and private sectors deal with data ownership and data sharing, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned a study that included a literature review and a survey of transportation agencies and private companies involved in providing traveler information services. The literature review brought together domestic and foreign experiences with data sharing from inside and outside the transportation sector. The survey consisted of 41 telephone interviews: 34 with public sector agencies and seven with private firms.
Transportation agencies typically share data with other public agencies and private companies to improve transportation operations through better interagency coordination and to optimize the use of the transportation system by providing information to travelers. Although some agencies use contractual language or training and procedure manuals to handle data sharing, the preferred approach is a data sharing policy. More than half of the public agencies surveyed, 18 of 34, reported having a policy on data sharing in place and several others reported having plans to develop one.
A formal policy aids data dissemination by providing a process for handling requests for data from other government agencies and private sector companies. Among other things a process helps with ensuring fair treatment as well as managing expectations and resources. Consider these factors when thinking about data sharing:
- Use a data sharing policy to establish the general approach for your agency. Agencies typically follow one of two general approaches to data sharing. The majority of public agencies take an open access approach to sharing traffic and transportation data that they collect. Twenty-eight of the 34 public agencies surveyed reported that they did not have any exclusive arrangements for access to their data. The other major approach to data sharing is an exclusive or monopoly franchise policy.
- Use an open access policy to enable and encourage a variety of ways of providing information to the public. In the right environment, free and open access to data will stimulate its creative use and dissemination by a good number of participants.
- Use an exclusive data sharing policy if restricted access may be necessary to stimulate interest and investment in data use and dissemination. Practical considerations for an exclusive arrangement include: wanting to avoid dealing with too many private parties; having invested in infrastructure, but with no budget for information dissemination; or, having no budget for either infrastructure or dissemination.
- Make sure your data sharing policy is consistent with applicable laws. In some cases, open access policies derive from freedom of information laws that require publicly collected data to be available with few restrictions.
- Use your data sharing policy to provide specific guidance on difficult issues. Depending on your situation, a data sharing policy may include guidance on some or all of the following:
- Type of public data to which a private entity has access.
- Fees or costs borne by private sector associated with access and dissemination of the public data.
- Sharing of privately generated data with the public agency and protection of its value.
- Dissemination of data by private entity to other parties (free or resale).
- Control over video images.
- Requirements that the private entity use the public data to provide information to travelers.
- Acknowledgement of public agency as source of data (e.g., logo).
- Technical requirements for access (e.g., communication system).
- Allowable advertising.
- Personal identification and graphic images of serious injuries.
- In-kind services provided by private sector (e.g., airtime for public service announcements).
- Training on use of the public data.
- Intellectual property rights.
- Standardization of data format.
- Monitoring usage of traveler information services.
- Liability for data quality and availability.
- Sharing of private entity revenue with public agency.
- Placement of private equipment on public rights-of-way.
A data sharing policy can be of great help to transportation agencies when dealing with data requests from other public agencies and private companies. Officials are typically able to rely on its guidance with respect to a range of issues from data availability to data costs to privacy. In addition to the guidance it offers, an established policy can also aid data dissemination. Wider dissemination of traffic conditions allow travelers to make informed decisions about their travel choices, particularly during peak hours and along congested routes. Such informed choices may include using an alternate route or avoiding the peak hours of travel, thereby contributing to transportation goals of increasing efficiency, mobility, environmental quality, and customer satisfaction.