San Francisco’s BART transportation system has been under criticism for its lack of transparency and in response, is issuing a new open data proposal. BART plans to create an open data portal offering information on salaries, contracts, spending, geospatial information, web analytics, ridership, and crime. The proposal was presented to the BART Board of Directors during its bimonthly meeting yesterday.
The move would make BART one of the more transparent transit systems in the country, although it is unclear from the proposal how often the data would be updated. According to BART’s own estimations, if implemented, the policy is projected to cost $250,000 during fiscal year 2018.
BART has partnered with the Sunlight Foundation, an open government advocacy group to craft the proposal.
“A common complaint against government is its lack of responsiveness to those seeking access to its knowledge base,” said BART Board member Nick Josefowitz in a statement. “Now is the time to leverage 21st century tools to the public’s benefit, and we are excited to see BART lead the way.”
BART first started offering schedules and transit times online when it integrated its schedules with Google Maps in 2007. BART APIs are now on track to handle over a billion calls during 2016. But, the service itself hasn’t always been as seamless as the transit times API would suggest. The transportation system has faced criticism over service interruptions, crime and how budget monies are spent. Trust in BART management has also emerged as a key issue locally, as several ballot measures up for a vote in November have become hot button issues.
BART is asking for additional funding through a property tax increase in the already expensive Bay Area. The funding will go toward critical infrastructure improvements, but critics of the transit system are asking why the proposed repairs are so extensive. According to analysis from the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week, rider fares on BART cover more overall system costs than many other transit systems, but there are still deficits. BART officials have also pointed out that rail cars and other parts have reached the end of their lifecycle so full replacements – not just maintenance – are needed. Transit officials are also considering service extensions to more parts of the Bay Area.
With an open data portal, individual users and watchdog groups could take a closer look at how money is being spent within the BART system. The current proposal includes a number of good steps like the inclusion of valuable data like salaries and contracts, as well as providing the data in machine readable format, but it will also be important to ensure that data is updated in a timely manner. BART has opened a public comment period on the proposal through its website, www.bart.gov/open