No OC Transpo API for you!

Ottawa software developers were excited when the city started allowing them to tap into OC Transpo’s server that tracks real-time bus location data.

Using the advanced programming interface — API– to tap into the GPS data, coders were busy creating new mobile and web-based applications that would tell users whether their bus was on-time. Several of these were entered in the City of Ottawa’s app4ottawa contest.

A few weeks back, however, the city suddenly shut down access to the data. Word at the time was that this was a temporary development, just a pause to work out some of the kinks.

Not so, according to one city hall source, who tells me the city jumped the gun in opening up the API in the first place. OC Transpo has been developing their own application and is revamping the entire system used to track buses. There was a miscommunication between the city tech guys and the bus people, I’m told. The company wasn’t expecting the data to go online.

There were also concerns about liability, because OC Transpo had no control over how the apps used their data. If somebody on the way to the Civic Hospital for brain surgery missed their bus because of an app error, who to blame and who gets sued?

Further, the company apparently has hopes for commercial advantages from the app they are building — want an ad with that bus schedule? Whether this  data will ever be open is uncertain.

So, bad news for Ottawa’s burgeoning Open Data community.

The only bus data can get in the near term is archival, much like the 92 million GPS records I used for this story on OC Transpo reliability figures.

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