Greater Greater Washington

It's here! Metro posts transit data online

Metro has posted the Google Transit-formatted schedule and routing information on its new "Developer Resources" page. Developers have already expressed plans to add Metro to Walkscore's Transit Time Maps very soon. If you discover other tools that incorporate this data, please post in the comments.


Photo by marc e marc.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with the site, at least from my end: There's an infinite loop. After signing the agreement and trying to download, the site redirects you back to the agreement again. Or the links lead you to a "file not found" error message. Some commenters report they've been able to get the feed, so it appears to be working now.

The agreement contains this provision:

Indemnity: Licensee agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless WMATA and its officers, directors, and employees from and against all fines, suits, proceedings, claims, causes of action, demands, or liabilities of any kind or of any nature arising out of or in connection with Licensee's use of the Service or the Data.
Are there any attorneys out there that want to opine on "defend"? Does that mean you have to pay WMATA's court costs and attorney fees? I think this will be a big sticking point for Google and other developers, and would likely limit the usefulness of the data. Update: an attorney friend of mine who wanted it clear that this was "not legal advice" said that you would have to pay for WMATA's costs if they were sued due to a problem with your program.

In another part of the license, WMATA also reserves the right to start charging for the data:

License Fee: WMATA does not currently charge a license fee to download the Data. However, WMATA reserves the right to institute a license fee at any time in the future without prior notice.
It's bad policy to charge a license fee for this data. WMATA has no idea who might tinker with this data and release a great new tool for free. The cost of development and distribution of software tools is very, very low, so charging for the use of data is a real barrier to hobbyist development.

Metro should keep the data free. The extra ridership they'll get from riders better understanding the system will far exceed the time Metro may spend updating and releasing the data.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen, including all the petition signers, Metro Board members, and Metro staff.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia. 

Comments

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I can't get it either. I wanted to spend today playing with the data!

by Erik on Mar 23, 2009 10:11 am • linkreport

@Erik: Me too, though with respect to the data, I don't know what I'm doing.

I was hoping that WMATA would see the results that I expected: People have already developed tools that use GTFS-formatted data, so releasing all these new features for WMATA services would be a matter of dropping in the new data, testing it to see that it works, and releasing. Each transit agency doesn't have to reinvent the wheel, and there can be dozens of tools available within days of releasing the data.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 23, 2009 10:17 am • linkreport

I want to create a Google Maps overlay of the WMATA bus system. I think that's something that could be handy. Those large PDFs are a bit annoying.

by Erik on Mar 23, 2009 10:46 am • linkreport

When the Nextbus test site was accessible, being able to view MetroBus lines on a Google map individually was quite helpful.

by Steve on Mar 23, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

Sigh. Yet another sign that WMATA still lives in the 1980s. Can't they just put up a sign that they provide the info "as is, no warranty"? That should be enough, not? With regards to the fee, I reckon they are naive enough to want some of the dough if someone creates a handy iPhone app that sells thousands of copies. They don't understand how internet works. This is sad, pathetic and exemplary for the sad state metro finds itself in.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2009 12:01 pm • linkreport

Still broken. Real sad.

by Matthew on Mar 23, 2009 12:22 pm • linkreport

It seems nuts. Do I have to agree to defend them against lawsuits before I can download the PDF schedules? Why not?

by David desJardins on Mar 23, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins: Because this is "new and different" and therefore "weird and scary".

Also, there's nothing in between the PDFs and you that could be messed up, so in this case WMATA is defending themselves against some programmer error getting someone misrouted, then lost.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 23, 2009 12:45 pm • linkreport

Also, there's nothing in between the PDFs and you that could be messed up, so in this case WMATA is defending themselves against some programmer error getting someone misrouted, then lost.

Which is pretty weird in itself. I mean, if someone gets lost using Bob's Iphone Bus Map, how does WMATA even have any legal liability?

Not that any one is remotely likely to sue anyway. In terms of perception, people are pretty sophisticated. They know when it says 'Google' or 'Bob' at the top of the page, it isn't WMATA official. I doubt most people even think about where the data came from - for all they care, Bob got it by riding buses around and taking notes.

by jack lecou on Mar 23, 2009 1:52 pm • linkreport

in this case WMATA is defending themselves against some programmer error getting someone misrouted, then lost.

But that's not what it says. It says they want the licensee to defend them even if it was their mistake.

The idea that they would ever have liability for some mistake made by Google seems sort of ludicrous, right?

by David desJardins on Mar 23, 2009 2:12 pm • linkreport

@David: Well, yeah, they're defending themselves by making you agree to pay for defending them regardless of the source of the error.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 23, 2009 2:28 pm • linkreport

It's somewhat ridiculous to require anybody below the level of a medum-sized independent contractor to sign an "indemnify, defend, and hold harmless" clause, much less an individual.

Nevertheless, it's common - if you've signed up for, say, AdSense, you've signed one.

I hate corporate lawyers.

PS: I was under the impression that WMATA had sovereign immunity against lawsuits except where they or the government waives that right. Does this make the clause redundant, or does it just move the contract from 'small chance of ruining your life' to 'tiny chance of ruining your life'?

by Squalish on Mar 23, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport

Sqalish: Good point. That's a dumb provision of the AdSense TOS too, and Google should get rid of it.

Unfortunately, lawyers want to protect the company as much as possible, so they load these things down with all sorts of crazy provisions. Unless someone makes a public stink, they typically stay in there, and reality diverges more and more from our understanding of our legal responsibilities.

by David Alpert on Mar 23, 2009 2:33 pm • linkreport

I'd be curious if and how WMATA can enjoy sovereign immunity. They claim not to be a federal agency, it seems odd that they could be close enough to the federal government to enjoy sovereign immunity but far enough away not to be affected by Title 17's exemption of US government works from copyright. I'd like it if congress would extend §105 to clearly include intergovernmental agencies like WMATA. Their desire to sell this data, which is publicly owned in the first place, is disreputable.

by Steve on Mar 23, 2009 3:00 pm • linkreport

Try the link now.. I got it to work!

by Erik on Mar 23, 2009 3:00 pm • linkreport

I want to create a Google Maps overlay of the WMATA bus system. I think that's something that could be handy. Those large PDFs are a bit annoying.
When the Nextbus test site was accessible, being able to view MetroBus lines on a Google map individually was quite helpful.
Final project topic for Intro to Computer Cartography course found, if I can get approval. I wonder if I can learn GTFS, AJAX, GM-API, KML, & graphic design in a month, to say nothing of getting my webhost in order or my contention that such a thing should be iPhone-accessible eventually.

GTFS looks pretty roomy as far as accommodating some of the problems I've heard claimed (unscheduled service, holidays).

Will the RSS updates be machine-readable or in English?

by Squalish on Mar 23, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

I was able to pull it down now as well! Now the fun begins....

by Kevin on Mar 23, 2009 3:52 pm • linkreport

Still dead for me...

by Squalish on Mar 23, 2009 4:32 pm • linkreport

I've got it. The feed contains 3.45 million different stoptimes (that is, instances when a vehicle passes a stop or station). It's the biggest public feed I've processed yet - it should make for a fun transit map.

by Brandon on Mar 23, 2009 5:40 pm • linkreport

OK, the data is build and accessible from my application on any Internet-enabled BlackBerry, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, etc. J2ME phone. Look for "Maryland/Virginia/DC" group.

the install URL is trainlogic.net/wap.

Anyone interested in it - email me today, you'll get a freebie.

by Yuriy on Mar 23, 2009 9:53 pm • linkreport

Ok, I've got my copy. It's hefty, at 20MB.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 23, 2009 10:47 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know how long before this data shows up on www.google.com/transit?

by gadgetSolo on Mar 24, 2009 8:58 am • linkreport

@gadgetsolo: Unclear that it ever will. WMATA refused to sign Google's agency agreement, putting the ball in Google's court as to whether they are willing to go forward with the terms WMATA put on the data. Based on my contacts at Google, they are looking into it.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 24, 2009 9:43 am • linkreport

Thanks Micheal, its a shame that WMATA didn't sign the Google agreement. I look forward to see what Google decides.

by gadgetSolo on Mar 24, 2009 9:53 am • linkreport

The indemnity provision seems standard. Here's the SF MTA's provision:
The Licensee shall defend, indemnify, and hold harmless the City, together with any and all of the City's agents and employees, from and against any and all claims, losses, liabilities, damages and expenses (including reasonable attorneys' fees) of any kind whatsoever for any action or claim brought against the City arising from or concerning Licensee's use of the Data or any person's use of the Data in an application created or provided by Licensee.
And here's Portland's:
You agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless TriMet and its officers, directors, and employees from and against all fines, suits, proceedings, claims, causes of action, demands, or liabilities of any kind or of any nature arising out of or in connection with your use of the Service or Data.

by Cactus Jack on Mar 24, 2009 1:22 pm • linkreport

Cactus Jack, that's an awesome handle you have there!

by Cavan on Mar 24, 2009 1:40 pm • linkreport

Link was broken for me on WMATA's site.

But it appears to me that the only data getting exposed to (or picked up on) Google Maps is bus data -- no metro rail.

by Tad Reeves on Jun 17, 2009 12:01 am • linkreport

On the contrary:

The Blue Line - routeid 283

The Green Line - routeid 285

The Orange Line - routeid 286

The Red Line - routeid 287

The Yellow Line - routeid 288

by Squalish on Jun 17, 2009 7:23 am • linkreport

Rereading your question after coffee: Bus *stops* are available on Google Earth if you zoom in far enough - there are enough of them that it was a stylistic choice to leave them off Maps. Bus *lines* are more difficult because WMATA didn't prepare that section of GTFS - I've been working on a much delayed app for visualizing those at a given time(pushed back to "sometime this summer"), but there is an outdated/overgeneralized version used for DC planning available here.

by Squalish on Jun 17, 2009 9:11 am • linkreport

I'm very surprised that their isn't a google earth plung in yet that shows the all the metro bus and train routs. it would made planing a trip so mu better. and i wouldn't haft to switch back and forth google earth and trip planner web page.

by ricky williams on Oct 26, 2009 4:58 pm • linkreport

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