Photo by Baptiste Pons.

The New York MTA has a new policy: Transit data is more valuable to the agency when released publicly at no charge than when hoarded as a potential source of revenue.

The MTA wasn’t getting any money from Google in exchange for including it in Google Transit, but was demanding payment from smaller developers like StationStops, one guy who built a iPhone app with Metro-North schedules in his spare time. MTA even sued StationStops and got Apple to pull the app.

But following widespread coverage in the press, a letter from New York Councilmember Gale Brewer, and a new MTA chief, the agency decided to reverse course. They dropped the complaint against StationStops and fellow iPhone app The Next Train, a different programmer’s app for the Long Island Rail Road. This week, Apple finally reinstated StationStops to the App Store.

MTA officials told the New York Times that they’re “trying to evolve” to address this “emerging area.” Colin Durrant of Massachusetts’ Office of Transportation, which released data freely in August, told the Times:

We felt it was an essential role of government to open up our data and our information to developers. Rather than having a consultant develop a tool or an application or some sort of software, why not put the data out there and have people compete to develop products that we might not have the time nor the money to create? It’s a win-win for everybody.


At the recent Metro board meeting, Alternate Director Gordon Linton argued that WMATA shouldn’t release data without ensuring they get a cut, and even though Google wasn’t paying MTA or anyone else for data, that means nothing because they hadn’t asked. MTA’s policy decision here changes that. They didn’t ask, but they asked from others, and have decided officially that they won’t and shouldn’t ask. That’s because the value to riders far exceeds the paltry revenue impact of this issue, and even Google isn’t “lining their pockets.” WMATA may now be the only major transit agency without a policy encouraging innovative applications that help riders. It’s time to stop being the last holdout.

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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.