Last month, David and I wrote about Metro’s inability to reach an agreement with Google. I argued that Metro should sign Google’s agreement, and David argued that Metro should change its terms in order to entice all developers, including Google, to come to the table. Metro provided a response by email.

Their argument boils down to three points:

  • We’re already providing our schedule information (under a restrictive license), which Google and others could use if they want to.
  • We’re hiring a consultant (for $500,000) to find out whether we can make any money off the schedule data, and don’t want to do anything until we know.
  • The Metro trip planner was recently upgraded and has a lot of nice features. Therefore, this isn’t a pressing need.

The entire text of their response is below.

Regarding your question about Google Transit, we are currently offering the Metro Trip Planner’s rail and bus scheduling data to Google in the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format. Google and other businesses can download the GTFS files after agreeing to our terms of use.

We plan to begin a study this year which will give us a firm idea as to the commercial value of intellectual property like scheduling information. Until that study is completed it seems wisest to avoid entering into an exclusive agreement with any company. Right now, developers can use that information for free, which seems like a win-win situation to us. They can develop new products using our scheduling data, and we still have an opportunity to earn money from that data in the future. If we can earn money from the use of this data, that money will be applied to our operational budget, and it will slow the growth of fares.

Metro currently reserves the right to withdraw the data in the future, because, as I said, the results of the study may show that Metro can earn a substantial amount of money from the intellectual property we produce. Increasing the amount of revenue Metro earns from sources other than fares is something virtually all Metro stakeholders, including customers, seem to agree on. On the other hand, the results may show that there is little market for this information, or the Metro Board may decide not to authorize Metro to go down that path. Either way, we think it is best to keep our options open, especially since we have a trip planner in operation right now.

We might have come to a different decision in other circumstances, but we feel that the Metro Trip Planner offers many capabilities:

  1. The Metro Trip Planner provides a more complete itinerary to Metro riders, as both local and regional bus scheduling data is provided. Metro’s Trip Planner includes all the local and regional commuter services including CUE, U-MD Shuttle, Howard County Transit, DASH, Arlington, Frederick County Transit, RIBS Fairfax Connector, Annapolis Transit, Connect-a-Ride, Prince William County-OmniRide/OmniLink, Loudoun County Transit, Ride-On, Tyson’s Shuttle, and TheBus.
  2. Metro’s Trip Planner provides riders with three instant itineraries for trips - Metro Bus, Metro Rail, or both. Each itinerary provides the following:
    • a complete breakdown of the fare structure at the bottom of each itinerary,
    • the Bus timetable in PDF format for all Bus legs on the itinerary,
    • walking directions for a specific leg of a trip with a link to a walking map, which provides a visual guide and allows customers to view the start and finish points, along with step-by-step directions,
    • escalator/elevator outages for all Metro stations on the itinerary,
    • interactive access to station pages allowing riders to retrieve additional information, such as parking availability, bike parking availability, car sharing, bus routes serving the station, what’s nearby, real-time arrivals, entrances/evacuation maps, fares to all the other stations, and a listing of the location of all escalators and elevators at each station.

  3. The Advanced Trip Planner form provides the following features:

    • A drop down list of popular locations and a link to interactive maps to facilitate users’ entry of “to” and “from” locations,
    • the ability to minimize travel times by walking distance and transfers,
    • the ability to remember “to” and “from” locations,
    • the ability to limit address searches within each of the 9 Metro compact jurisdictions (Alexandria City, Arlington County, District of Columbia, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Prince William County),
    • the ability to view trips 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 minutes before and after times displayed with the click of a mouse.

To sum it up:

  • Metro has a trip planner that offers many capabilities to Metro customers.
  • Metro is planning to conduct a thorough evaluation of money to be earned by its intellectual property. Ultimately, the Metro Board will make the final decision.
  • Right now, Google, or any smaller developer, can use our scheduling data for free if they agree to our terms. This allows them use of the information and it keeps the door open for us to earn money from this information in the future, and that will help keep fares lower.

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.