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Zimmerman and Linton debate Google

A few hours after debating the value of innovation regarding NextBus, Arlington's Chris Zimmerman and Maryland's Gordon Linton continued their debate over technology at the full Board meeting. In the interim, the Metro Board renewed John Catoe's contract with a small raise. I addressed the Board during the public comment period about Google Transit, presenting the arguments in this handout.

Zimmerman (left) and Linton (right). Image from WMATA.

This post summarizes the discussion; tomorrow, I'll present my take. The audio of the exchange begins at 42:15 in this stream.

I told the Board how we'd discovered that neither New York, Chicago, or any other transit agency whose contract we obtained is getting money from Google in exchange for providing transit data. Therefore, it's virtually impossible for Metro to do so. As a result, spending $500,000 on a contract to find out how much they can get is simply throwing $500,000 down the drain. Gordon Linton, the alternate director from Montgomery County and former FTA head, responded first to my comments.

I clearly understand your position, and I also underst the source of your information. But I will say to you very candidly that I have had discussions with some of the same agencies htat you suggested had no revenues, and part of it is that they never considered the opportunity for revenues. So it is not that revenues do not exist.

Yes, we at Metro are looking at intellectual property. Our riders and the jurisdictions and taxpayers have to pay for these services. It is our responsibility to look at every opportunity for revenues in every item that we do. Because another transit agency has chosen not to do that, including New York, Los Angeles and others, and I've talked to the marketing reps from those agencies, and they've never explored it, that does not suggest that we should not.

Our staff has been directed by the board to do exactly what they've done with intellectual property, because we need to make sure that we're receiving revenues for all the assets that Metro has, and we need to consider that on behalf of all our riders.

Chris Zimmerman first explored the issue of indemnification. In a nutshell, New York and Chicago have negotiated contracts where they don't indemnify Google for anything. Staff have claimed that's a sticking point, but since these other agencies have gotten past that, Zimmerman suggested that Metro try to get the same.

Sarah Wilson, the Metro staff member working on this issue, replied to Zimmerman's question about indemnification by bringing up an unrelated argument:

We did an anlysis of the ten major transit properties, and we are the only ones who solicit advertising on our own website. What that means is that to the extent that we are driving traffic to our website that is helpful towards revenues that we derive.
Zimmerman interrupted Wilson to ask her to focus on the question he asked, about indemnification. Wilson then told the Board that Metro hasn't tried to negotiate away the indemnification since we found out that other transit agencies have removed the clause.

Zimmerman continued:

A far as the revenue side goes I certainly agree that we should explore, and I think we have a duty to explore, any possibility for revenue. And I agree with Mr. Linton that transit agencies dont always do that and we should. And I support your efforts to find out the value of any intellectual property that we have including those provided by the internet.

On the other hand, I don't see any reaason for us not take advantage of opportunities right now, today, to provide more information to customers that doesn't cost us anything, as long as we protect the long term value. In other words, we don't have to say that, now and forever, we're going to do something for free. Mr. Linton, in an earlier meeting, cited our example of car sharing, and I think it is instructive. He correctly pointed out that we are now getting some rev back from that contract, as we should because someone is making money off it. And that was right. But we just started out by saying, let's just get car sharing started, and the people coming in weren't making a lot of money on it, and we didn't expect to make any money on it. And after a few years we were able to do that.

Right now it seems to me there's an opportunity to provide benfit to customers, both those who live here and those who come from around the country, to be able to sue our system more effectively in a way that it looks like doesn't cost anything. If there's a way to do that and, again, hold out the possibility in the future... This is a very dynamic environment. The Internet changes all the time. You dont want to bind yourself well into the future. But
why not do something now.

I've got a trip coming up to another city. I'm going to Boston for a conference, and I ... was able to have it tell me how to use transit in the city of Boston to get from the airport to the location of the conference. The kind of thing everybody here's probably done on the Web when you're driving somewhere. It seems to me that it's a very tangible benefit we could have and I don't see anything that I've heard told that says we can't do that without causing some kind of long-term damage. I don't see what the loss to us is, assuming we can clear up this indemnification issue, what significant cost there would be to us of allowing that to happen in Washington, DC and its surroundings just like right now it is in New York, Chicago, Boston, and most of the major cities in the country.

Next: Who's right? Both, and neither, but mostly Zimmerman is spot on.
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Can we please try to get Zimmerman in as GM in 2013 (at which point all the suburban and exurban providers would have said "screw it" to WMATA and have joined)?

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 3:12 pm • linkreport

Our staff has been directed by the board to do exactly what they've done with intellectual property, because we need to make sure that we're receiving revenues for all the assets that Metro has and we need to consider that on behalf of all our riders.

This is where the thinking error is. Or more precisely, the lack of thinking. Linton here shows that he is proud that his staff does exactly what the board does, without any consideration.

I am sad to see that WMATA does not act in the best interest of its riders: providing good information on its schedule.

BTW: Here's an idea: How 'bout WMATA provides the information for free, on the condition that all applications are made available to the public for free as well.

by Jasper on Sep 28, 2009 3:33 pm • linkreport

Linton's position is embarrassing and epitomizes what's wrong with America. Overly bureaucratic, litigious, and everyone wanting to "get theirs" without regard for the greater good. It's particularly galling that this is ostensibly a public agency, whether they'd like to admit it or not.

Metro needs an overhaul from top to bottom.

by SG on Sep 28, 2009 3:40 pm • linkreport

@SG I have started to wonder if replacing WMATA with an RTA model a la Chicago, NYC, Philly, and Boston would be the best thing for it in the long run. The municipal bus lines might prove to be a problem (PG and maybe Loudoun counties excepted), but this area needs a fresh start and I think such a model would help more than hurt.

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 3:43 pm • linkreport

@SG I have started to wonder if replacing WMATA with an RTA model a la Chicago, NYC, Philly, and Boston would be the best thing for it in the long run. The municipal bus lines might prove to be a problem (PG and maybe Loudoun counties excepted), but this area needs a fresh start and I think such a model would help more than hurt.

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 3:44 pm • linkreport

@Jason, what is an RTA model? What do you mean?

by Michael Perkins on Sep 28, 2009 3:56 pm • linkreport

A regional transit authority. Or whatever the aforementioned cities have. Anything that will put WMATA out of its prideful misery.

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 3:59 pm • linkreport

@Jason, what's the difference between that and what WMATA is?

by Michael Perkins on Sep 28, 2009 4:03 pm • linkreport

The idea to charging Google to disseminate public information strikes me as more absurd than charging television networks and radio stations to broadcast public service announcements. Mr. Linton is half-right about intellectual property. True, taxpayers and riders pay for the infrastructure that generates the data. But we don't pay to keep it private, we pay to make it public – and quite handsomely at that (e.g. bus stop signage,, paper timetables, and so on). So why not expand dissemination using an outlet that has no cost to riders or taxpayers?

I'd like to hear Mr. Linton explain his serious consideration of the possibility that public transit would be significantly more appealing if predictable and accurate data were available on-demand. As an 8-year resident of the area, I think most people would agree that but for the risk of waiting 30 minutes for the next bus, far more people would be in the habit of paying fares. Assuage that risk and it follows that you increase ridership - and dollars in the till. If that $500,000 is still burning a hole in somebody's pocket, spend it on GPS and confidence-building metro safety improvements.

And the question of whether transit data, or any other kind of government GIS data, is government-owned intellectual property is subject to considerable legal argument. I'd urge readers to assert that all data, not explicitly exempted by law, which a public agency generates should be available for the price of burning it onto a CD. This position has been adopted in several state and federal courts, and it's counterproductive to invite litigation on the question here.

Finally, Ms. Zimmerman's point about steering web traffic entirely misses the point: steering butts to seats. Judging by the absence of advertising on the front page of the WMATA website - presumably the most lucrative real estate on the site - the argument for prioritizing web ad revenue over distribution through Google is especially weak.

by Cameron on Sep 28, 2009 4:19 pm • linkreport

1: They are not WMATA.
2: They are not corrupt.
3: They are progressive and pro-rider.
4: They dealt with Google Transit with no problems.
5: They have monthly passes.
6: Their riders don't moan about old subway cars. All 4 cities run or have run cars older than the 1000 series cars here with little complaint for the most part.

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 4:35 pm • linkreport

Not one of those 6 points is a structural difference. Maybe those agencies do their job better, but they don't operate in a structurally different way. There is no "better model" with which to replace WMATA.

by BeyondDC on Sep 28, 2009 4:41 pm • linkreport

Jason, that doesn't really help. Care to expand on the structural differences between those agencies and WMATA that allows for those different outcomes?

Also, I'm not sure those other agencies are as great as you imply. Ever read Streetsblog and their issues with the MTA?

by Alex B. on Sep 28, 2009 4:42 pm • linkreport

If WMATA was replaced with the any of the aforementioned, it might give the impetus to assume the operations of MARC and VRE which could give greater weight to start weekend service on those lines (MBTA deals fine with Amtrak and CSX). It would also give more of a chance for the exurban counties (Loudoun, PW, Charles, Anne Arundel, Howard, and Frederick) to link up to DC area transit than currently and it might help the abysmal state of transit in PG County. An RTA also could lobby for a special taxation district for the counties within it and might have more clout in Richmond and Annapolis than WMATA does now.

How is this not bad?

by Jason on Sep 28, 2009 4:51 pm • linkreport

How can we get Mr. Linton replaced?

by Adam L on Sep 28, 2009 4:55 pm • linkreport

Not to point out the obvious, but RTA and MBTA are agencies located solely within one state. (And I still don't think either one has taxing authority--the holy grail of WMATA boosters. They both exist on whatever taxes the state legislatures enact and local city/county governments collect on their behalf.) Unless DC, VA and MD want to relinquish control of WMATA to a federal agency with taxing powers. And I just don't see that happening--it would be a dramatic concession of state sovereignty--and there is no precedent for it. The only entities that come close are the DRPA (Delaware River Port Authority) that collects tolls in Pa and NJ and the Port Authority of NY and NJ. Both run relatively short transit lines. Neither one, though, to my knowledge has taxing authority beyond their bridge and tunnel assets. And of course Metro has no revenue-generating assets like toll bridges and tunnels. Unless Congress wants to assume all of WMATA's capital expenses and operating losses with the federal largess, I just don't see the current tri-jurisdictional balkanized system changing. And you can imagine that every other major transit system is going to cry foul and start clamoring for federal operating subsidies if that happens.

by Paul on Sep 28, 2009 5:11 pm • linkreport

Jason, WMATA *is* an RTA. There is no reason to think it would do any of those things better if it were replaced by a new structurally similar agency.

If you're suggesting that WMATA expand to encompass a larger geography, that might be worth exploring, but it wouldn't make WMATA any more or less of an RTA than it is already.

by BeyondDC on Sep 28, 2009 5:12 pm • linkreport

Illinois RTA and NY MTA are cobbled-together messes. The Illinois RTA is a thin layer over *three separate* transit agencies which fight each other and won't cooperate.

NY MTA is a thicker layer over *five* separate transit agencies (NYCT, Metro-North, LIRR, MTA Bus, LI Bus), one of which is basically run as three separate agencies (NYC Subway/NYC Bus/Staten Island Rapid Transit). They cooperate better, but they couldn't manage to merge the bus divisions let alone the rail divisions. On top of that, other parts of the system are run by New Jersey Transit or the Connecticut DOT.

Compared to either of those, WMATA is a model of efficient management. Don't make it uglier.

The Boston MBTA is a single, fairly centralized organization with relatively sane management. However, it was born bankrupt, and it seems to have bad taste in contractors, and its employees aren't so great either.

SEPTA in Philly is also fairly centralized, but it's done bad things: it has a bias torwards some services and against others; and nobody would call it a model for good management. And part of the service there is provided by the totally separate agency PATCO.

If you're looking for a model for a unified system, New Jersey Transit is probably it. One statewide transit agency, and they do seem to have intelligent people running it, and they don't seem to have a "mode bias". However, despite covering the *entire state of New Jersey*, they are effectively in a balkanized position too, due to having to interact with SEPTA, PATCO, and the NY MTA, plus Amtrak....

Even in Los Angeles, there's Metro and then there's Metrolink. The San Francisco Bay Area has *far* worse balkanization, with BART, Muni Metro, Caltrain, ACE, Capitol Corridor, the San Jose VTA, and a bazillion separate bus companies, and *most* of them have serious planning problems.

You want a decent example of an integrated system, you have to go abroad -- Deutsche Bahn is probably the best example..

by Nathanael on Sep 28, 2009 8:59 pm • linkreport

I'd urge readers to assert that all data, not explicitly exempted by law, which a public agency generates should be available for the price of burning it onto a CD. This position has been adopted in several state and federal courts, and it's counterproductive to invite litigation on the question here.
As we're very interested in this topic here, would you mind elaborating on the relevant casework? My understanding was that federal public domain statutes did not affect state agencies (which are only sometimes under state public domain statutes) or organizations/individuals that were not within the direct organizational hierarchy (contractors, collaborators) of federal agencies. Also, comments to the effect of "I invite them to claim that they're not a federal agency when they receive sovereign immunity" have been made to me, and I'd love to hear an "I am a lawyer but this does not constitute legal advice" rather than "I am not a lawyer" quality dissection of the existing law.


I have started to wonder if replacing WMATA with an RTA model a la Chicago, NYC, Philly, and Boston would be the best thing for it in the long run.
Could you please define "The RTA Model", and explain what unique features allow agencies following that model to achieve your points 1-6?

by Squalish on Sep 28, 2009 11:01 pm • linkreport

The thing I still can't figure out is why Google can't simply at least add the rail lines to the map. Seriously, it's not that complicated. Can't they just download a Metro map and add the lines to their map? Why do they need WMATA's permission for that?

Essentially what is WMATA even holding back? If its the schedule data, why can't Google just transpose it from the published schedules (which are useless anyway)?

What am I missing here?

by Reid on Sep 29, 2009 8:44 am • linkreport

I can answer your question in two words: better management. I don't see as much unbridled rage towards any of those agencies as I do WMATA and they seem to function in reality more than WMATA.

Case in point: fare hikes. In DC Jim Graham derails a 5-cent hike on an already low fare, but (to name two cases) Metro-North has had 3 fare hikes in less than 3 years and earlier this decade the MBTA bus fare doubled in 3 years.

Where do I start?
- RTA in Chicago at least seems to have less drama and seems more consumer friendly than WMATA (though they might save themselves if they hiked Metra's low fares on that end).
- MTA in New York can be subdivided further, NYC Bus itself has two different operational components (NYCTA and MABSTOA). They still seem to get things that WMATA can't get the grasp of though their fare collection seems to be a bit obsolete being hardwired to not take bills and that they won't have a smartcard ready until the mid-2010's.
- MBTA, outside of inheriting a screwy rail side, seems to be operated quite well though their over-customization of things is a pain for companies to deal with. They at least launched a smart card system that could handle passes from the get-go unlike WMATA who took 10 years to do it and their fares seem more realistic than the too-cheap bus/too-high rail (in the suburbs) we deal with.
- SEPTA's basics seem okay though the suburbs having too much weight for a city-heavy system and their abandoning (trackless) trolley lines out of laziness is a bit shameful. That they're still behind the curve on fare collection doesn't look good either.

All those agencies at least have reasonable fares, monthly passes, and gave in to Google Transit. I want the same from my TA but their corporate culture precludes it and it needs to be blown up. That's all that often matters, especially since Metro's problems are making it collapse and the attitude of riders seems to be like Philly or NYC circa 1980. Is it fixable?

by Jason on Sep 29, 2009 9:19 am • linkreport


So far, you've still got nothing but a solution looking for a problem.

Again, if you can show us the specific things within WMATA that need changing, I'd love to hear them. Simply saying that other agencies do it better is a) of dubious accuracy, and b) says nothing about why they do it better or how they do it better.

by Alex B. on Sep 29, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport

To my mind, the analogous situation here is that of movie times at cinemas. That data appears to be distributed quite widely, with the result that you can look it up from a variety of sources. Of course, as with so many other things, the easiest lookup has become a Google search for 'movies: '. Since I can do that, I can also embed a widget into my website, put it on my desktop and yes, if I wanted to, I could run a large ticker-type service in my living room. I suppose my wife would object to that last bit.

And the wide dissemination of what might be considered proprietary data for the cinema owners has the effect of enabling people to consume the primary product of the cinemas (watch movie, pay too much for bad food etc). If Google, the City Paper, the Post etc happen to get a marginal boost in eyeballs and revenues, so be it.

Mr Linton, please read this and relent. NextBus is fantastic - it just needs to be in more places.

by HM on Sep 29, 2009 9:46 am • linkreport

Some ideas on how to fix Metro:

1: Reform the fare system to something a little more realistic. I think bus fares could be a little higher ($1.50 smartrip, $1.75 cash for local buses) and rail fares a little cheaper (I think that far-out commuters on other systems get a lot more of bargain than DC). Unified passes would be a must, ditto monthly passes.

2: Forget the $70,000 and deal with Google Transit. WMATA's whole conflict with them is looking as embarrassing as our Cuba policy to the rest of the world.

3: Total overhaul of the corporate culture, this seems to be the greatest hindrance towards WMATA's growth. When SEPTA and MBTA look competent, you know something is wrong.

4: Find the funding to build the seperate Blue Line to unclog the inevitable Rosslyn clog that will happen when the Silver Line starts (the detour of the Yellow Line along the Blue/Orange Columbus Day weekend will be a good preview of that).

5: Possibly expand the area to some of the fringe counties. I know the compact is expensive to join, but there should be incentive for some of the fringe counties to join or for support to go in for a singular route (i.e. B30 or the old C18 between Branch Avenue and Waldorf). I think there are a lot of opportunities that are open -- Shady Grove to Frederick, New Carrollton to Annapolis, Silver Spring or Greenbelt to Columbia, a second try of said C18 -- that WMATA could easily do if the counties gave some support for a singular route. At the same time, there needs to be some transit connections between MD and VA across the bridges.

5.5: Loudoun County is in the WMATA compact and gets one stop at Dulles for the money it pays. Since their local bus services through VRT are near-nonexistent, they should get some more for their money pre-Silver Line. If West Ox could open weekends, I think running some routes with either Dulles North and/or Herndon-Monroe as a feeder point could work, maybe extend one down to WFC to keep them off of a clogged 5A.

6: Pressure PG to give more money!!

7: Stop treating the riders like children (i.e. no more "hi, welcome to Metro" announcements) and improve outside communications with riders.

by Jason on Sep 29, 2009 10:03 am • linkreport

Jason, you realize what a tautology is, right? That's all you're giving us.

Metro's bad. Make it like the MTA!

How is the MTA better?

The MTA's not Metro. Metro's bad.

You've told us nothing. You've just given us a logic circle. At no point have you told us what the MTA or anyone else is doing different (except offer Google Transit) that makes them better. Metro could satisfy your conditions by simply by renaming itself the MTA, using your reasoning.

HM, your example actually demonstrates the Metro argument.
AMC Theatres no longer provides theater times to the Washington Post. Their argument is remarkably similar to that of Metro against Google Transit. AMC owns and may still have a stake in (Lowes was one of the founding partners of that site. Later AMC bought the Lowes chain. A lawsuit forced them to remain partners with Fandango.) and they sell those movie times to various websites, including Whereas, with the Washington Post, they paid for those listings. In other words, money is being exchanged in order to provide schedules to the public. That said, in other markets or other papers, space is donated in the papers for those movie times. However, that still doesn't stop and from selling those times to outlets like

by Wes on Sep 29, 2009 10:15 am • linkreport

Well, you wrote that while I was writing my post, Jason. Thank you for explaining what you want. That said, I don't think any of that has anything to do how Metro is organized now.

For example, prior to 2001, Metro offered combined bus/rail pass and monthly passes.

And some of your wishes will not come about only through reorganization. Metro had two cross state lines through various points in time (The Montgomery-Tysons Beltway Express, The N11-N13 between King Street and Branch Avenue, a rush hour line from Rosslyn to Bethesda via DC's Wisconsin). All were cut because of lack of money. Metro is going to need way way more money for those pie-in-the-sky desires like the new Potomac crossing into DC.

by Wes on Sep 29, 2009 10:26 am • linkreport

All those other agencies have realistic fares. WMATA's rail fares are too high and their bus fares are too low and unlike other cities things are too politically charged to make it reasonable. Would Jim Graham get away derailing a 5 cent fare hike in New York or Boston?

DC's bus fare is $1.35 (75 cents for some routes east of the Anacostia). Boston's is $1.50 for CharlieCard/$2.00 for cash. Philly's is $2.00. New York and Chicago are $2.25. Even Baltimore is $1.65! If WMATA is so strapped for money, why are the bus fares so artificially so low?

I think a $1.50 fare for the buses (express fares don't see a hike) and an overhaul of the Metro fare system during peak hours and a flat fare off-peak would bring in loads of money that WMATA seriously needs.

by Jason on Sep 29, 2009 10:30 am • linkreport

Jason, a couple of things:

(1) I've lived in Boston and Philly. I don't think riders there were any happier with their service than riders in DC are with theirs. And in terms of technology, both the MBTA and SEPTA were way behind WMATA in implementing things like smart cards (does Philly even have one yet?).

(2) The higher cost for suburban riders was purposefully built into the Metro system. This is why we have fares based on distance rather than a flat fare. The rationale is that those who use more of the system should pay more for it. I'm fine with this.

(3) You still haven't explained how the RTA, MBTA, or MTA are structurally different from WMATA, or how the regional transit authority structure makes an organization more responsive to its users' needs than some other structure would. Also, I'm pretty sure WMATA *is* a regional transit authority.

by Esmeralda on Sep 29, 2009 10:41 am • linkreport

Good for Mr.Zimmerman. He puts the metro rep in her place when she doesnt answer the question his question on indemnification.

by Arch on Sep 29, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

The rationale is that those who use more of the system should pay more for it.

Do people who use the roads more pay more road taxes? Isn't the point of transit to get people where they need to be? Isn't the point of transit to move people who can not live close to their work? You can argue that people who live farther out need a larger incentive to use transit.

I suspect that you do not live in the 'burbs and therefore are very happy to let "them" pay.

I do not intend this personally, but it's a thing I see here a lot. People are completely happy to let "others" pay more. Jason wants people in Anacostia to pay more for their buses. Transit riders are all for tolls on the highways they don't use.

This is NIMBY behavior. Or better NOOMP (Not Out Of My Pocket). It is based on the silent assumption that you are being abused by the system and everybody else get a better deal than you. Which is obviously not true. It is cheap and never solves solutions.

by Jasper on Sep 29, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

@Jasper, much of the road funding comes from gasoline taxes, so in that case the tax paid is somewhat related to the amount of use.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 29, 2009 11:17 am • linkreport

ItÂ’s well within the rights of the WMATA to charge a fee for their data. Only the Federal Government cannot hold a copyright. Therefore any other entity, state, local, or otherwise can. Now in a few states their Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) state that data must be given away. In most however, it does not. FOIA does not trump Copyright otherwise. You can request data in those states under FOIA for Fair Use under copyright but you canÂ’t redistribute it or profit from itÂ… copyright prevents this. Some states even limit your costs to only charging for the copying feeÂ… but still prevent you from profiting from the data by redistributing it or selling it. So WMATA is within their rights to charge for their data if they want to as long at they are not a Federal Agency or have a FOIA that prevents it.

It does get tricky though with dataÂ… since the courts ruled a simple listing of information cannot be copyrighted but an ordered database can beÂ… you just have to show original thought and work went into creating the database. Otherwise no company would ever be in the data selling businessÂ… so this applies to state and local government data too.

(IÂ’m not a lawyer, and I donÂ’t play one on TV but weÂ’ve had this issue come up a lot where I work and we had it looked into a number of times.)

by TC on Sep 29, 2009 11:35 am • linkreport

Thank you, Chris Zimmerman, for speaking for riders.

by TheGreenMiles on Sep 29, 2009 11:38 am • linkreport

The MBTA has far surpassed WMATA at the smart card game. Also, their fares are more reasonable though some are odd ($59 for a monthly? $9 for a day pass but $15 for a weekly?). If WMATA had MBTA's fare structure, commuters here would forgive WMATA for the crap they've done. Heck, MBTA threw a bone when CharlieCard bean by removing the extra fare zone for the Braintree branch and ending the $3 fare for boarding at Riverside (but ended the free outside-the-subway rides on the D branch).

I think the most that far-out riders should pay to get in town is maybe $4, tops. If WMATA's fare system is so good, why is the only city (besides BART who was first) that adopted it been Seattle? That speaks volumes about how distance based fares area.

Also, if WMATA was a true RTA, VRE and the MARC lines would be under their control. I love how the MBTA can contract out their lines and avoids all the Amtrak/CSX drama that has kept MARC from weekend service or any off-peak service on the Camden and Brunswick lines. WMATA running commuter rail would remedy that pretty quickly.

by Jason on Sep 29, 2009 11:49 am • linkreport

And to respond to Wes's earlier comment about cross-state bus lines, if memory serves me right the N11/N13 only were cut because of the Wilson Bridge work more than funding. The new Wilson Bridge was built with provisions for transit access. Why not use that transit since it was logistics that killed the last try. I suggested in one of the National Harbor threads an "NH2" running from King Street to National Harbor, then following the former NH1 routing to Southern Avenue. Would be a win-win for all involved.

The 14-series "SmartMover" buses were killed more because Virginia wouldn't let buses dodge traffic by driving on the shoulders of the Beltway. The lack of a suitable park-and-ride location with more than a few spaces pretty much killed any use on the Virginia end to NIH/Bethesda/etc.

On this tangent, would a route between the Red Line (perhaps somewhere in Montgomery County, Grosvenor or Bethesda) to Dulles work? The lack of a 5A stop near the Red Line makes it hard to want to fly out there and it's a bit of a haul to get there. Anything to fill the transit lack between Montgomery and Fairfax.

by Jason on Sep 29, 2009 11:54 am • linkreport

Wes, I stand corrected then. My original thinking was on the lines of weather information. Of course, I'm not privy to the licensing arrangements behind all the sources of details on the weather, but the sheer ubiquity of that data suggests to me that the terms of those arrangements are quite simple and likely don't involve payments.

While I'll quit making commercial-analogies, it's hard to understand WMATA seeing it's service as compelling enough to not do with a hand from others who might want serve ridership higher through a friendlier and diverse toolset, whatever their motives.

by HM on Sep 29, 2009 12:05 pm • linkreport

@Squalish & TC: I haven't seen a blue-bottle case for either side, but there are colorable legal argument that are worth trying. For example, see:

Innovative Database Systems v. Morales, 990 F.2d 217 (5th Cir. 1993)(Overturning Texas statute prohibiting sale of information obtained from public records as violative of the 1st Amendment).

County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 374 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009)(Holding state public records law barred county's copyright claim to GIS base map because public interest in understanding government activities outweighed interests in safety and recouping GIS investment by selling data).

S. Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Automated Geographic Reference Ctr., 200 P.3d 643 (Utah 2008)(Holding GIS products prepared in anticipation of suit not protected by work product doctrine; record would have been created regardless of potential litigation and thus was public record subject to disclosure).

by Cameron on Sep 29, 2009 12:10 pm • linkreport


Like I said it all depends on the State and Local FOIA laws... everyone is differnt. Were does WMATA fall? Fed? State? Local? other?

The Utah case though had nothing to do with costs but making a public record available which most FOIAÂ’s requires unless there are exemptions.

The Texas one had to do with accident data that the attorney general was allowed to distribute and use but others were not. Again this was not directly about cost of the data but about the Plaintiff not being able to provide the data to their clients once they got it. Texas made it illegal to provide the data. This as the court rule was against the 1st Amendment. But nothing in there says they still couldnÂ’t charge for the data, license it, etcÂ…

I couldnÂ’t find the County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court one. If youÂ’ve got a link IÂ’d like to see that one since itÂ’s a recent ruling and about GIS data in particular which IÂ’ve seen many different rulings over the years going both waysÂ… but always depending on the particular state laws on FOIA. So IÂ’d like to see what their reasoning behind this ruling was.

by TC on Sep 29, 2009 12:39 pm • linkreport

WMATA's FOIA policy (Called PARP) is a close analogue of federal FOIA. It's almost a word-for-word copy and they state in the policy that it will be interpreted consistent with federal FOIA.

WMATA's policy states that information will be released unless there is an exception or the data is already published to the public. This data is already published, it's just under a license.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 29, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

When WMATA fought with me over whether I was a member of the media, they cited federal FOIA cases (EPIC v DOJ, etc.) as their side of the argument.

In my opinion they did not interpret one key case correctly.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 29, 2009 1:09 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins: much of the road funding comes from gasoline taxes, so in that case the tax paid is somewhat related to the amount of use.

The key word is "somewhat" here. Furthermore, the gas tax hasn't been increased since... euhm, ever? And it severly underfunds the highway fund. That is exactly why the American infrastructure is falling apart.

So, how is this an argument to let transit users pay more if they travel farther? Come on Michael, you've argued often enough against this bogus argument to bring it up yourself.

@ TC: It is not relevant what is in WMATA's rights. What matters is whether it is right to charge for their schedule.

by Jasper on Sep 29, 2009 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

Thanks... does the WMATA FOIA (PARP) make any mention of copyright? I'd be curious to know if "interpreted consistent with federal FOIA" means they are abiding by the Fed restriction also on holding a copyright which I would think would really prevent them from charging for their data then (other than copying fees I would assume).

FOIA at the Fed level is different from the State level where copyright can be applied also unless the state gives up this right. So how does WMATA see themselves I wonder?

by TC on Sep 29, 2009 1:14 pm • linkreport

"What matters is whether it is right to charge for their schedule"...

That's a moral question not a legal one. Legally if they can hold a copyright and FOIA does not prevent them from charging for it, then yes... then can charge you for the data... is it in their best interest? I don't know. Last time I checked though capitalism was alive and well in the private sector so why not elsewhere? If they can get money for it why not? If they can't then they'll offer it up for free... Google can afford it anyways.

by TC on Sep 29, 2009 1:23 pm • linkreport

@ TC: Santa Clara is at the link below; it was also published under the citation 170 Cal.App.4th 1301.

by Cameron on Sep 29, 2009 4:10 pm • linkreport

Also, if WMATA was a true RTA, VRE and the MARC lines would be under their control.
How does not running the commuter trains make WMATA less of a regional transit authority? And how would Metro running MARC and VRE improve any of the systems?

The thing is there is a lot of issues that afflict Metro, and they can't be all solved by a single bullet. Putting all transit under one organization still won't get it funding to make capital repairs (much less expensive new construction), it won't get VDOT or the SHA to build bus lanes faster, or make the board more responsive or less scared of Google. Having all transit under one organization won't make it easier for it to raise fares (it'd probably make it more difficult) -- though it might make fares more standardized.

by Wesley on Sep 29, 2009 6:00 pm • linkreport

@ TC: Last time I checked though capitalism was alive and well in the private sector so why not elsewhere?

Sigh. Last time I checked, capitalism has never ever ever ever worked in infrastructure. Ever. There is no country in the world that has a complete commercial infrastructure. For very obvious reasons.

So, exactly why would capitalism apply to WMATA - a semi-goverment agency?

by Jasper on Sep 29, 2009 8:52 pm • linkreport

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