Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Thanks to open transit data, we now have many terrific trip planning and bus or rail prediction mobile apps available to transit riders. Are there other ways transit data and other open data can help us understand our communities and the city around us?

If you’re a programmer or other technical person who’s worked on open transit data applications or might be interested in doing so, the folks at the Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services, would like to hear your ideas and get your input on some other ideas.

The Mobility Lab, OpenPlans, and Greater Greater Washington are organizing a gathering next Saturday to discuss ideas, and all transit developers or aspiring transit developers are invited. We’re also looking to start a project to develop some new tools that further the Mobility Lab’s mission of helping people use transportation.

Ever since WMATA launched its transparent data sets and even before, I’ve been mulling a number of ideas for web and mobile applications to help people understand their transit choices. To take a very simple case, the current bus map is very complex and extremely difficult to use. All the lines being the same color doesn’t help, but the basic fact is that there are too many bus lines to really depict in an easily-understandable way.

But I am only likely to use a small subset of the bus lines. What if I could see a customized bus map that showed routes I’m most likely to find useful, with user interface tools to modify it or see some of the others? My map might look very different from someone else’s. It might not tell someone every single piece of information they’ll ever need for any possible trip, but no map does. We can significantly demystify the transit network in this way.

And what about going beyond buses? Right now, there’s one map for Metrorail, one for Capital Bikeshare, several for buses (Circulator, Metrobus, Ride On, Fairfax Connector, etc.) Instead of dividing up our maps by mode, we could design maps that show each person the modes they might find useful and where they go. I take Metro downtown, bike to U Street, usually a bus to Georgetown or Rosslyn.

The Mobility Lab is interested in starting a project to experiment with these ideas and better generate personalized transit information, such as maps and schedules. Already, Arlington creates custom transit plans for many employers; we might be able to automate many of these tasks to enable far more people to enjoy their benefits. Therefore, the Mobility Lab is collaborating with OpenPlans and Greater Greater Washington to explore the possibilities.

To begin, we’d like to meet the many folks who are also doing great work in this and related areas. If you’re developing tools with open transit data or have always wanted to try hacking on the data sets to create something neat, come by to share what you’re doing or hear from others.

We’re having an informal workshop on Saturday, July 23 from 11 am-2 pm in Arlington. RSVP here if you’re interested in joining and sharing some ideas.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.