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U.S. DOT Calls on State, Local Agencies to Help Build National Transit Map

The map will add public transit to the list of transportation-related data available at the national level.

Data can do a lot for transportation. It's opening new avenues for planners, engineers and researchers to learn more about the true impact of projects; making it easier to reroute traffic for optimal flow; and paving the way toward a possible future where vehicles are able to drive without humans.

So the U.S. Department of Transportation is pushing to develop data as a better resource. Right now, it's in the middle of an open call for state and local agencies to submit data that it will use to put together a national transit map. That means open data to help broader policy-level efforts at the department, from testing emerging technology to injecting more social conscience into the planning process.

The department is aiming to publish the map during the summer.

Government Technology recently asked Dan Morgan, the department's chief data officer, four questions about the project and its potential impact.

Government Technology: What do you envision the National Transit Map being used for? What do you hope its impact will be?

U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Data Officer Dan Morgan: The Department of Transportation is committed to ensuring our nation’s transportation system provides Ladders of Opportunity to help Americans access jobs, training, health care and other critical services. Meeting that commitment requires a clear understanding of the full reach and limitations of transportation in America. Although the department maintains a National Transportation Atlas Database of America’s roads, bridges and railroads, that database does not include fixed-route transit service.

Many transit agencies have begun to publish their route and schedule data online in a standard, machine-readable format. By combining this data into a National Transit Map, we will be able to better understand and illustrate the role of transit in America, understand where gaps in service exist and help connect more Americans to opportunity. There are many great examples of work that has been done in this space — the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota, the recent collaboration between Transit Center and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Mapzen’s Transit Land and so many more. The department’s goal is to collect and widely share the schedule data (that) powers these and other products so we can spur even more innovation and insight.

GT: Who will have access to it and who is it designed for?

Morgan: The National Transit Map will be published as open, machine-readable data on the website of DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The map will allow the department, researchers, policymakers and private individuals [to] understand where transit service reaches. By providing open, machine-readable schedule data that reaches across the nation, we can also better understand when service gaps exist; for example, many routes provide limited or no service on weekends. Most importantly, it will help us understand who is served and underserved by transit. The National Transit Map will be open and machine-readable, so it can be combined with other data sets.

GT: What information are you seeking from local and state transit agencies?

Morgan: We are inviting state and local transit agencies to share their machine-readable data on transit routes and schedules. Many agencies already publish this information online — they can opt-in to contribute their data to the effort by completing a simple Web form authorizing the department to collect and use their schedule data. DOT can also provide technical assistance to transit agencies that do not yet publish schedule data.

GT: Will the map integrate with other transportation data tools, or could it? Why or why not?

Morgan: We plan to publish the National Transit Map’s underlying data in an open, machine-readable format. While we have no immediate plans to incorporate it into DOT’s other products, we hope that researchers, entrepreneurs and private citizens will continue to develop new, innovative ways to incorporate this data set into other tools.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.