Good news! The MTA has released GTFS data for the majority of the New York rail and bus systems. Check out the MTA's developer center and some analysis of the news here.

What "open transit data" means
Open data means information that is freely available and accessible for use by the public. Printed schedules are great for human beings, but they're impossible for computers to understand. Instead, computers require specially formatted data. This raw data can then be used to generate lots of useful things, from maps to mashups, from mobile apps to audio recordings for the blind.
Why open transit data matters
Open data enables software developers to build apps (like the ones that have been built in San Francisco and Portland). Apps help people use transit more effectively. When third-party developers build apps that improve the transit system, that equals more ridership for less money — it's as simple as that.
What should be done
Across the country, forward-thinking transit agencies are realizing the power of open data. With minimal investment, agencies have generated tremendous value by enabling the tech community to build applications which allow riders to more easily and efficiently navigate public transit systems. Here are four things New York should do to keep up with other cities:
  • Make schedule data freely available and accessible online, using the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). Above all else, easy access to original, accurate data facilitates innovation.
  • Develop a standard license for transit data. Innovation works best when the rules are simple and clear. A concise blanket license agreement — like the one TriMet uses — for all who want access to updated schedule data and the right to use it in their applications will reduce the burden on everyone.
  • Provide regular updates to keep transit data accurate. Out of date data can be worse than no data at all; nobody wants to miss their bus because they were told the wrong time. By providing timely updates to data feeds, agencies can help ensure that all app developers are using the most accurate information possible.
  • Work together. Many agencies, from BART to the Massachusetts EOT, have found that by collaborating with developers they can provide their riders with a better experience at a lower cost. There are plenty of challenging issues to resolve, but working together is the first step.
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