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DCRider: New Transit App for the Masses
The new DC Rider app for iPhone lets riders check the latest news from Metro. Image via iTunes.

The new DCRider app for iPhone lets riders check the latest news from Metro. Image via iTunes.

Last week, the Washington Post Co. released a new public transit iPhone app, DCRider. (If you don’t have an iPhone, you can also use DCRider on your computer: http://www.expressnightout.com/dcrider.)

The free app features:

  • Train times and Metro alerts: Find out when the next train will service your station and get updated advisories from Metro.
  • Closest Stations: See a list of your ten closest Metro stations based on your GPS location.
  • News: The latest on D.C.-area transit from The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock blog.
  • Entertainment: What’s going on around your favorite Metro station from Express and ExpressNightOut.com.
  • Comments: Interact with other riders on your Metro line and give your take on your commute (or anything else that’s on your mind). Want to join the discussion? Just log in with your Facebook account.

DCRider and other apps are benefiting from WMATA’s recently launched “Transparent Metro Data Sets for Developers” program, a $30,000 initiative that was officially presented to Metro’s Board of Directors on July 8. (Greater Greater Washington has more details about it, including implications for supposedly ongoing discussions with Google Transit.) WMATA, under the technological leadership of Chief Enterprise Architect Jamey Harvey and Chief Information Officer Suzanne Peck, recognizes that opening real-time transit data will help improve the transit experience:

This program will provide the general public and regional partners with access to Metro real-time transit arrival, location, and incident information for the purpose of increasing the general transparency of this operational information and for developing third-party applications for the web and mobile devices….

The availability of transparent data sets will underscore Metro’s goal and commitment to customer service by offering the public an entirely new means of interacting with the Authority and will allow Metro to take its place among leading transit agencies that currently expose similar data to the public.

Nat Bottigheimer, assistant general manager for WMATA’s Department of Planning and Joint Development, underscored the importance of accountability among data users during a roundtable discussion at an event for Digital Capital Week (organized by EMBARQ, the producer of this blog). He said:

We need to define open data in a way that it is in an agency’s strategic interest, and describe the information in a way that is supportive of an agency’s mission. This could mean presenting open data as a tool for managers to see how different parts of the system are performing, and otherwise show how accountability is something positive for the agency opening data.

We need to create a “menu” of applications and analyses of current data for developers to tackle. Create the expectation that if we use data, it’s “peer-reviewed,” to create accountability among data-users.

As WMATA begins its “phased rollout” of open data services, it will be important to remember 1) how open data can ultimately help WMATA’s managers improve bus and metro operations, and 2) how open data can help everyday users navigate the transit system in a way that’s more efficient, user-friendly, convenient and fun.

Stay tuned for WMATA to help launch a transit app development contest, similar to what’s happened in cities like Boston, Mass. and Portland, Ore.

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