ON: OC Transpo Set to Release Bus-Location Data March 22

OTTAWA - Following the outrage that ensued after OC Transpo management backtracked on a promise to release bus-location data openly to the public, the transit agency is set to keep its commitment and release the information by March 22, according to one transit commissioner.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, a commissioner who is also chairman of the information technology subcommittee, said a productive Jan. 24 meeting of an OC Transpo IT working group led to the change of heart.

Members of the working group - and the commission - are on board to approve a report directing strict timelines for when the bus-location data should be released, Tierney said.

He plans to introduce the written report at a special transit commission meeting on Jan. 26, which is currently only meeting set to deal with OC Transpo's delayed business plan.

"I think we have to be able to provide the open data," Tierney said. "That's a commitment that we made, and this (the report) is going to address that. By March 22, that commitment will be fulfilled."

Tierney said he was pleased with the subsequent action on the bus-location data issue, after becoming "extremely upset" that chairwoman Diane Deans and OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier told the transit commission on Jan. 17 that the data should be kept private for use by OC Transpo with its mobile applications and displays in order to maximize the amount of revenue that could be made from the data.

At the most recent meeting, transit commissioners were told that "dynamic advertising," including the potential for exclusive OC Transpo use of bus-location data, could net the transit agency $1.1 million in new revenue over the next four years.

Mercier told transit commissioners on Jan. 17 that OC Transpo would be looking at how much money could be made from harnessing the exclusive use of bus-location data, and then let commissioners decide what's more important: potential advertising revenue from the only mobile app that can show real-time bus locations, or the city's commitment to transparency through its open data initiative. That debate was set to take place this summer.

But Tierney said the discussion at the OC Transpo IT working group concluded that the revenue aspect "isn't relevant at this point."

Although there were some "major discrepencies" in opinions on the issue among transit commissioners after the commission's last meeting, the discussion at the working group got everyone back on the same page and recommitted to openly releasing the information for the public to use and for riders to take advantage of.

A strong argument was made by Tierney to look more closely at the model Winnipeg uses to release its bus-location data to the public for use in privately-developed applications that let riders know how far away their next bus is.

The report, which is embargoed until the transit commission meets at 1 p.m. on Jan. 26, will "address all the needs that were expressed," including the need to generate revenue, Tierney said.

The city did release a bus-location data briefly during its Apps4Ottawa contest in 2010 and early 2011, and transit apps were very popular: "Where is My Bus?," an app developed by Nepean resident Jonathan Rudenberg, won the people's choice award. But some other bus apps didn't work and left OC Transpo to field calls about the bad information they were putting out to the public, transit commissioners were told on Jan. 17.

Copyright 2008 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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