Three years after the launch of Google Transit, which gives directions using transit on Google Maps, and after constant requests by riders and bloggers, WMATA’s Director of Customer Service, Brett Tyler, announced their decision that participating in Google Transit is “not in our best interest from a business perspective.” That’s a very shortsighted decision.

Like many people in this area, I have been looking forward to having the ability to “get there by transit” using Google Transit. The feature, a free service by Google, just requires transit agencies to format their data in the Google Transit Feed Specification format and sign an agreement with Google.

At first, WMATA officials said that their scheduling information was “proprietary” and could not be shared with Google. Later, they told me that formatting the data in GTFS was time-consuming and not a priority for the WMATA staff. In June, General Manager John Catoe said in a Friday lunchtime chat that WMATA was working on it, but that the results were not accurate enough. (Since Transit would use the same data as WMATA’s own trip planner, this explanation didn’t hold water.) Finally, when I asked about it at the October board meeting, they said that they still needed to hammer out the legal agreements.

On Monday Brett Tyler, Director of Customer Service, gave me a definitive answer:

Metro staff did explore some possibilities with Google, but ultimately we decided that forming a partnership with Google was not in our best interest from a business perspective. We do believe that Metro’s newly redesigned Web site, at www.wmata.com, improves customers’ access to information about the Metro system. In addition, customers may get real-time information and bus and rail schedules directly on their cell phones or PDAs.

These tools are quite useful, but they’re not a substitute for Google Transit. WMATA’s Trip Planner doesn’t let you explore either your origin or destination neighborhood. It’s especially picky in trying to designate the origin or destination, at first asking you to leave off the city and state, then later requesting that you designate what city and state you meant.

Google spends a lot of time working on its user interface. WMATA should take advantage of that experience, especially since Google is willing to provide it for free. Plus, by making the data available, WMATA could allow other innovators to build even more useful tools. A company that specializes in easy-to-use Web sites will probably build a better site than an authority that specializes in running trains and buses, and having more clever programmers helping riders get the most from our public transit beats limiting the information to just a single site.We’ve created a petition to ask WMATA to reconsider their decision and make their data available to Google, as 91 other US transit agencies have done, and publish it online for anyone to use to build innovative new tools and grow transit ridership.

Here are just a few of the many US transit agencies who decided that Google Transit is indeed in their best interest:

  • Maryland MTA (including Baltimore and Maryland Transit bus stops within DC)
  • Fairfax, VA
  • Alexandria, VA
  • Loudoun County, VA
  • New York MTA (including the New York subway and commuter railroads)
  • Chicago Transit Authority
  • BART (San Francisco Bay Area)
  • San Diego, CA
  • Denver/Boulder, CO
  • Miami, FL
  • MARTA (Atlanta, GA)
  • Portland, OR
  • Dallas, TX


Please sign the petition today.

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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.