Data Policy Thoughts

Why make public data free..

I spent the beginning of a very busy week last week talking about the benefits of making public sector data more accessible. I was speaking at the launch of public transit data in Brussels, where the local public transport agency STIB made their schedule information available for use within Google Maps in Belgium.

Brussels Tram

As in all previous Transit data launches this is a non-exclusive arrangement, and others organisations or individuals could make use of the data to build applications.. This is one of main drivers of making information like this available, as it allows innovative solutions to be developed rapidly to meet real user needs.

The most well developed ecosystem of applications developers around transit data has developed around the BART System in San Francisco, who have a web page listing around 30 free and paid for applications which help people use public transport in the Bay Area.

At last weeks launch in Brussels, a local developer eMich demonstrated their android application which provides access to real time information on the STIB system, clear evidence that Europe’s developer community are just a proficient  at meeting users needs given access to the data.

In the UK the government has made some excellent progress in both providing the mechanism to download government data sets, but also working hard to develop a community of developers and innovators around

Now just a few weeks after the site went live we are beginning to see applications developed that exploit the data, a personal favourite of mine is the asborometer, a mobile application that allows a user to understand local crime data in a very simple way..

Listen to the developer Jeff Gilfelt describe his project..

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

6 replies on “Why make public data free..”


While it is important that people can access this information about their local area I am not sure that the app “allows a user to understand local crime”

I fear this stuff is much more complex than looking at a few graphs or a pin on a map representing a borough. Analysis and context are essential in trying to understand crime and antisocial behaviour.

That said I learnt that my middle class (and pretty sociable) suburb is in a London Borough that has a moderate level of anti social behaviour and is ranked 36th (worst) in the country. Now if I was thinking of moving home ….

Just to be clear I think it is a great step forward that the data to drive these new apps is available, it will be even better when the data is provided as live feeds rather than spreadsheets. Now the onus will switch to the innovators to make good use of it and to communicate the meaning and limitations of the data to the people who use their apps.


hi ed

great news for google (again), but please get the facts straight–you are under the mistaken impression that when google gains access to transit data, the rest of the universe does as well. this is untrue. google’s might is invaluable in pushing operators to make data open, but because it is available to you does not mean it is equally available to the world. hence people like me, citygoround and many others fighting (in various ways) for true openness. would be nice to know of all the systems for which google has data, how many make it *publicly* available–good intern project!


Ian, we always enter into non-exclusive agreements with transit system operators, you are right that not all follow the great example of BART in making public feeds available. We can suggest this is the right thing to do (using the simple gtfs format), but it is up to them what their do with their data !

Making the data accessible is ultimately a political decision for an agency, and the more individuals and organisations that express an interest in it, the greater the chance it will be made available.

sigh…you know you could in fact do much more to promote actual openness rather than self-serving openness. don’t get me wrong–i want to make as much cash as the next guy, but the perception of endless goodwill google seems to produce has become quite tiresome. you clearly have more muscle than others and are well-positioned to lean on agencies to encourage them to do more, not merely suggest it. why not modify your agreements (some of which you don’t want anybody to see) such that at the same time their data is available to you it must also be made available to other third parties? not all corporations have a fully-staffed lobbying office in case you aren’t aware.

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