WMATA’s first Metro Data Day creates official space for Metro/developer cooperation

This article was originally published by Mobility Lab.
 – October 21, 2016

Each day, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority collects a lot of data. Hidden within is information that could contribute more reliable service and customer experiences.

Unfortunately, WMATA does not have the resources to take full advantage of these assets, leaving an opening for concerned citizens to pick up the slack.

Last week, the WMATA Office of Planning hosted local developers, data scientists, and advocates at WMATA headquarters for “Metro Data Day 1: Destination Ideation.” The Office of Planning’s Michael Eichler, who led the event, hoped for it to be the first in a series of meetings designed to engage the community in “exploring WMATA’s unmet needs through apps and maps” in order to create tools for the D.C. region.

Since 2010, WMATA has made its data available to third-party developers, opening the door for community involvement in developing new solutions that staff might miss. Since then, sites like MetroHero, which presented its origin and methodology to attendees as a way to exemplify the potential of this open data, have become important resources for WMATA, the transportation community, and everyday riders.

Attendees began by identifying the various stakeholders within WMATA, such as train operators and passengers with disabilities, and the issues that they experience while interacting with the system on a day-to-day basis. These include anything from communication issues between the Rail Operations Control Center and operators, to the difficulties passengers in wheelchairs face while navigating transit.

After dividing the categories into themes – transparency, facilities, safety, reliability, finances, and system navigation – groups discussed how they might use WMATA data to address standout issues within each theme, and how they would go about developing the solution.

One recurring topic centered on making it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the transit system, such as providing directions to Metro station entrances, elevators, and shuttles, and providing customer support in areas where accessibility is difficult. Two groups explored the idea of creating an app, or an option within existing transit apps, that would guide people through the system in a manner that addresses mobility issues, and that would make it easier to contact those who could help, such as a station manager or shuttle drivers, in times of need.

With this laid out, attendees identified which issues are possible for community members to address. They used a “civic tech canvas,” adapted from the business model canvas, to lay the foundation for development of a real-world solution. The canvas creates the framework necessary to guide construction of a new app or tool by clarifying a project’s focus and logistical approach in order to maintain focus should developers pursue it at future Data Days.

Laying the groundwork

The first Metro Data Day set a solid foundation for citizens to build upon in follow-up events.

The gathering created an environment where the diverse stakeholders within the Metro community can support passengers as much as possible in the face of certain service shortfalls. While there are deeper issues for WMATA to resolve, passengers at least have the opportunity to improve the rider experience and perhaps even improve the system’s general usefulness and accessibility.

Overall, by making its data so widely available and working directly with third-party developers, the Office of Planning is building a mutually beneficial relationship between WMATA and the public.

WMATA has in the past encouraged community members to develop new tools that would improve the transportation experience for passengers, and has now created an official collaborative space to do so. Metro Data Days will continue as extensions of this first round, helping to build upon the foundation laid this past weekend.

Photo: Attendees at the Metro Data Day (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr).


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