Charlottesville Area Transit Gets an Upgrade

CAT logoAt long last, Charlottesville Area Transit will be getting an upgrade to its farebox system.  The system, pictured right, is a dramatic upgrade to the current system.  Kudos to the city for making this investment and to CAT for pushing for it.  .

This new technology, however, also brings up the idea of making data from the CAT system publicly available.  As noted in a recent Daily Progress editorial, “But in addition, the new fareboxes will enable officials to collect better data about ridership — where and when the heaviest usage occurs, how many people bring their bicycles or board with wheelchairs.”  Also from that article, “This will all be networked, and we will have the data available to us at our desktop as managers,” said John Jones, manager of CAT (“CAT to install advanced fareboxes in May,” The Daily Progress/Charlottesville Tomorrow April 17, in print). “This will tell us where people get on the bus, at what time and using what pass.”

Given above, this also is an opportunity for the city to open up that same data to its citizens as cities throughout the country have.  Who would this data be useful to?  Well… software developers, researchers, urban planners, journalists and businesses, as well as interested citizens among others.  Open data is growing movement that is yet to take root in Charlottesville.  This is not surprising given our stature as a small city.  Nevertheless, when we invest in systems like this, we’ve already invested in some of the technology to open up this data.  In terms of developing a system to share the data being collected by these boxes, much of that hard work is already done.  For transit, there is a General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) that defines a common format for public transportation schedules and associated geographic information.  The linked website includes examples that basically walk through how to set-up this type of data feed.

There is a huge social and economic benefit to the above groups.  From a macro perspective, open government data would provide a private economic benefit of nearly $3 trillion according to McKinsey Global Institute.  Obviously, there is a small slice of this for small city economies and those who jump on the open data bandwagon the earliest will benefit the most.

Some “open data” initiatives we’d like to see CAT take…

  • Daily bus route ridership totals
  • Annual boarding totals
  • Bus stop boardings
  • Daily ridership boarding totals
  • KML of  Bus stops
  • KML of Bus routes
  • KML of where to purchase smart cards
  • List of where to purchase smart cards
  • List of CAT stops

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