Who Owns Transit Data?
Most U.S. cities share their transit information freely, which helps trip-planning services and boosts ridership. But most German cities don’t. Should they?
As the hometown of Daimler and Porsche, the German city of Stuttgart has a powerful car culture. The city also has—perhaps unsurprisingly—an acute problem with air pollution. Last year the air quality in Stuttgart was so bad that the mayor implored residents to leave their cars at home and use the city’s many transit options, which include subways, commuter trains, streetcars, and buses.
Unfortunately, residents could not turn to many of the technology solutions that American commuters might use when plotting their trip on public transport, such as Apple Maps, Bing Maps, or a startup like CityMapper. None of those are available in Stuttgart—or in almost any other German city.
The reason? Stuttgart’s VVS public transport system is one of many cities around the world that doesn’t share transit data with startups or mapping companies. As a result, commuters cannot access trip-planning tools that many in the United States take for granted. That’s holding down transit ridership, increasing vehicle emissions, and stifling economic innovation.
By way of disclosure, I have a direct stake in this issue: My employer, 1776, is an investor in TransitScreen, a startup that displays up-to-the-second information for multiple modes of transportation, from both public and private providers. The idea is, if you live in a city, you might decide at the spur of the moment how to get from point A to point B; depending on price and convenience—you might drive, take a bus or subway, flag a taxi, or grab a bike-share cycle. Further complicating these decisions is the emergence of private transportation providers like Uber, Lyft, and Bridj, which seldom coordinate with public transit agency websites or apps...