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WMATA will open up real-time data to developers

Responding to our requests, WMATA is creating a comprehensive system for web, mobile, and other software applications to access a wide variety of transit information, including bus positions, rail arrival predictions, schedules, elevator outages, rail disruptions, and more.

According to a presentation for Thursday's WMATA Board meeting, the $30,000 "Transparent Metro Data Sets" project will open up data to third-party developers, including Google and anyone else interested.

On the bus system, that data will include real-time bus locations, "shape files" and data for routes, stop locations, and schedules. (The bus arrival predictions are NextBus's IP, calculated by their proprietary algorithms, but the bus locations are not).

On rail, Metro will release station locations and information, "line summary" and "line detail" (not sure what those are), the rail routes, real-time arrival predictions, service disruptions and elevator and escalator outages.

According to the presentation, they will conduct a "phased rollout" including the first services by "end of summer," and work with developers including an application contest like Boston's.

The presentation specifically mentions how many people have requested this data, including "regionally-focused websites and bloggers" as well as merchants, retailers, and tourism and hospitality groups, which hope to put bus and rail arrival displays, similar to the one in the Arlington County office lobby, into hotels and other places.

It doesn't give any specific update about the state of supposedly-ongoing contract negotiations with Google, and I hope Board members can ask about this on Thursday. As before, the legal terms under which WMATA releases the data for third parties will also be crucial to driving or hindering adoption.

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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Will either the "line summary" or "line detail" include the number of cars in the trainset? There's no field for that in the General Transit Feed Spec (GTFS) but it would be useful info for any developers who want to make an application similar to the one in NYC for getting on the correct car depending on where you want to exit.

by Ted on Jun 8, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

Wait, it isn't April Fools, is this for real?

by tim on Jun 8, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

Eh, since all the trains are pulling to the end of the platform, the app could just say "7th Car, second door, if available; else, 6th Car, third door"

by kidincredible on Jun 8, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

Finally. I expect to see some cool very iphone, web, and other applications.

by nowisthetime on Jun 8, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

Still waiting on the Google integration. Otherwise, this is a great thing.

by andrew on Jun 8, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

If some enterprising computer programmer wanted to, could he make his own predictions? I mean, if you have the current location, I'd imagine that with a bit of work, you could build something that could give some sort of prediction.

by Tim on Jun 8, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

@Tim. I hope so. It'd take a while to collect enough historical data to establish traffic patterns. One could even hook it up with current weather conditions, time of day, day of week, month, and existing traffic to get something considerably more

by nowisthetime on Jun 8, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Tim The published schedules should give approximate travel times between time points. GTSF data if and when published would make that more systematically available, obviously.

by jnb on Jun 8, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

I began working on a web/based and java/based (for blackberry) program that would provide this information, relying on wmata's existing web data. It was useful on multi-line stations where you wanted to know when the 4th train was, if say the first 3 were orange blue orange and you wanted to know what the 4th train was (blue or orange) and how far away it was. This was almost always possible during peak periods, and depending on which station, off peak as well.

The projected died last summer as I had less free time with work projects.

by Ballston_Resident on Jun 8, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

This is good / hopeful news! I'm working on the OpenStreetMap ( project, importing DC GIS data and it would be hugely helpful to also be able to add Metro data. (shape files, bus stops, routes, etc.) We need the terms of use to have minimal strings attached, and pass the "cake test" ( in order to be able to make use of it.

by Katie Filbert on Jun 8, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

By the way, bus locations are only transmitted every 2 minutes, right? And what about train locations?

by Tim on Jun 8, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

Wa-hoo, I know what my late summer coding project will be.

by m on Jun 8, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

Hurray! But as David notes, we need to see the use terms. It's not too late for Metro to screw this up.

by Gavin on Jun 8, 2010 4:55 pm • linkreport

I currently use "DC Metro Transit Info" on my Android phone and it has nextbus and train info on it. It's generally accurate, but I guess I'm wondering how this news will change anything.

by Teyo on Jun 8, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

I have no confidence in this move at all. WMATA is unable to do anything without screwing it up.

by James on Jun 8, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport


If you want an organization with fixed, maybe even outmoded, ways to change progressively, the way to do that is to give positive reinforcement for things it does -- even halting, incomplete things -- in a desired, new direction.

If even halting steps in the right direction are treated derisively, the very people you want to change will associate change with abuse and will avoid change in subsequent go-rounds. Also, the kinds of people you'd WANT in the organization will avoid ever joining it.

by jnb on Jun 8, 2010 6:03 pm • linkreport

Great! I want to tinker with it for an Android app. All the free ones I've seen so far are inadequate.

by Mike on Jun 8, 2010 6:23 pm • linkreport

Technically, the bus locations are provided in Nextbus. I've played around with it using San Francisco and Boston's feeds to view which buses were assigned to which route (well to be honest, it is possible with WMATA's feed as well.) I can't wait to see what apps people can create with all this data. It's proven a success with Boston and they will be putting every route on Nextbus by the end of the summer.

by Ken Conaway on Jun 8, 2010 9:17 pm • linkreport

In addition to the developers of mobile web applications, there are many others who've been hoping, praying, begging and pleading for this to happen.

I'm sure that I'm not the only transportation GIS geek who has an embarrassingly ugly hack of WMATA's bus system. Whatever they release will be a hell of an improvement over what we had before. So happy.

by J Graham on Jun 8, 2010 10:06 pm • linkreport

@ J Graham
I'm a GIS major who has been interested in trying to get the route shapes for the bus routes for a while. I might try to create some better looking maps for the schedules or at least something simplified for some of the complicated lines.

by Ken Conaway on Jun 9, 2010 7:55 am • linkreport

Great job- this is a major win for you guys!

by MFS on Jun 9, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

@Ken Conaway

If you can work with ESRI ArcGIS data, send an email to volite at gmail dot com. I'll send you what I have.

It will be interesting to see what kind of product they'll be making available. I'm guessing that some of the systems that these data are derived from aren't explicitly spatial (scheduling), so I wouldn't be expecting the map data to be perfectly conflated to your street centerlines data.

by J Graham on Jun 9, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

They never discussed this and the presentation is missing from the committee agenda. Hope they bring it up next month.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 13, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

Any news on this? This would be a huge benefit to the future of transit.

by Austin on Jan 4, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

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