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Open or Closed? Open Licensing of Real-Time Public Sector Transit Data

January 18, 2017 by Teresa Scassa, Alexandra Diebel

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This paper explores how real-time data are made available as “open data” using municipal transit data as a case study. Many transit authorities in North America and elsewhere have installed technology to gather GPS data in real-time from transit vehicles. These data are in high demand in app developer communities because of their use in communicating predicted, rather than scheduled, transit vehicle arrival times. While many municipalities have chosen to treat real-time GPS data as “open data,” the particular nature of real-time GPS data requires a different mode of access for developers than what is needed for static data files. This, in turn, has created a conflict between the “openness” of the underlying data and the sometimes restrictive terms of use which govern access to the real-time data through transit authority Application Program Interfaces (APIs). This paper explores the implications of these terms of use and considers whether real-time data require a separate standard for openness. While the focus is on the transit data context, the lessons from this area will have broader implications, particularly for open real-time data in the emerging smart cities environment.