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Real-time status updates on some MBTA bus routes now approaching

The state Department of Transportation says it has started publishing raw, live location data for buses on five routes - which will eventually lead to applications that let riders see how far away the next bus is and when they can expect it to show up.

The XML data being pumped out for the 39, 111, 114, 116 and 117 routes is aimed at software developers who can build applications for riders, rather than riders themselves. The feeds - the MBTA's first real-time public data - were to be announced at a developers' conference in Cambridge this morning. The ultimate goal is real-time data for all of the T's transit lines.

In recent months, the T has released a slew of data about its operations to encourage third-party developers to build user-friendly applications - rather than try to build the applications itself. This morning, state officials awarded a year of free MBTA travel to Sparkfish Creative for an iPhone application built on the data and to James Kebinger, for MBTA in motion, which shows a day's worth of subway and commuter-rail trips in two minutes on a map.

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Very cool, my favorite mbta app so far is OpenMBTA (which is free). The website says the developer will add this real time info once the T releases it, so this is great news.
http://iphonembta.org/

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Global warming. The developer says people asked why he didn't try to make some money by putting it in the iPhone store for 99 cents or whatever, but he felt global warming is such an important issue he wanted to do what he could. "Programmers can do a lot of good on this front," by building applications that encourage people to take public transportation.

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Global warming. The developer says people asked why he didn't try to make some money by putting it in the iPhone store for 99 cents or whatever, but he felt global warming is such an important issue he wanted to do what he could.

I admire his work and commitment to the public good. Wish he didn't have to base it on religious reasons.

In other words, if global warming should fail to appear over the next 20-100 years, and our understanding of this period's beliefs evolves to be one of more anthropological than geological significance, I would hate to see this fellow feel like he wasted his time.

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Hi - I'm the developer of OpenMBTA. I'm not going to debate the question of whether global warming is already happening. I believe it is, and you're more skeptical, which is fine.

But even if it wasn't happening, there are other very good reasons to promote public transportation. One is the rapid depletion of the earth's finite petroleum reserves, and the other is the pernicious political effects of our dependency on foreign and especially Middle Eastern oil. (Thomas Friedman writes a lot about the latter; on the former topic, I recommend the short book Out of Gas by David Goodstein)

So whether you agree with my main "religious" reason for making this app free, surely you can agree with one of the other good reasons why promoting public transportation through free software is not a waste of time for anyone.

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Hi Dan, thank you for doing this work on OpenMBTA.

As I wrote, I respect your efforts and commend you for making this software open. And I am glad that you are doing it for more reasons than global warming, since I am skeptical that it will occur, and I expect it more likely to be remembered as a source of mockery of our generation by the ones which will follow.

The deeper question you might ask is, "Who cares WHY I am going this, if we agree that it is a good result". Do the ends justify the beliefs, so to speak?

The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, seems like it is the same one I would give for any religiously motivated action. Apply the faithless world test: "Could I still justify this action if there were no [global warming]?" If the answer is yes, then it is a good choice. If not, there might be a problem.

This sounds like just such a test:

So whether you agree with my main "religious" reason for making this app free, surely you can agree with one of the other good reasons why promoting public transportation through free software is not a waste of time for anyone.

Agreed. Promoting public transportation through free software is a desirable end in itself, as it adds to a valuable public good.

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is there a link to the press release or somewhere to find the urls for these XML files? Tried looking on MassDOT's News & Updates with no luck.

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It's encumbered by the biggest piece of ass-covering I've ever seen:

http://www.eot.state.ma.us/developers/downloads/DL...

Highlights:

-Prohibits developers from using any of the "trademarks" (so for example, using the T circle in your iphone app icon? No can do, Chaaaaalie.) And while they stopped short of demanding that Chief Paul scream "THIS IS CHIEF PAUL OF THE MBTA. THIS APPLICATION IS NOT PROVIDED BY THE MBTA. PAY YOUR FARE! REPORT SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES! AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF SMOKING, ASSHOLE!" every time you open the program (along with periodic reminders), they sure do a great job of covering every possible way an application might be misconstrued as being their own work.

-They reserve the right to shut off any and all of the feeds with no notice. So in other words, don't rely on any of the applications built off the data.

-They dump all liability for any inaccuracies and state that there are zero guarantees as to the accuracy or availability of data. So, if that real-time data shows the 1 bus sitting in front of the bus stop and you're at the bus stop and there's no bus...well, the best you're going to get (if you get anything at all) is a "sorry, no guarantees." Again: don't rely on any of the applications built off the data.

Why any developer (especially one who plans to charge money) would risk getting involved with these assclowns is beyond me. All it's going to result in is pissed off customers.

Reminds me of an argument I had with an MBTA call center employee about the existence of a bus stop. "Sir, my computer doesn't show the ___ bus stopping there." "There was a sign there for the bus route. It was hit by a car and knocked partially over. Then the sign fell off completely. Then it was stolen. The bus still stops there, but now some of the drivers argue with me and refuse to let me off." "Sir, the computer says there's no stop there." "I've lived 100 feet from this stop for 2 years. It exists. The ___, ___, and ___ busses all stop here, and in fact, for the ___ and ___ busses, there's no other stop for many blocks, so if this stop disappeared, they would no longer connect with the other routes."

"I'm sorry sir, my computer says there's no longer a stop there."

I had a great laugh about it all with the crew that showed up 2-3 months later to install the replacement signs...unfortunately, they didn't put in a pole with schedules...just the bus stop signs :(

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None of these things are troubling:

- The fact that there's a feed doesn't mean that the MBTA wants anyone using their trademarks. Services built on the data may be great, may be awful, but the MBTA doesn't want to be associated with it when it doesn't have any control over the content of the app. I don't see any problem. Portland, which is highly regarded for its provision of transit data, does the same thing.

- Yes, they reserve the right to shut off the feeds. Obviously. They bill this as a "Trial" service. Trial means test. Do you think they should put in there that they guarantee to keep the feeds going, as-is? If they determine the data should be provided in a different format, should they be required to keep offering it as originally promised? Like the first, this is a standard term and noncontroversial. Portland states that "TriMet reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue the Service (or any part thereof), temporarily or permanently, with or without notice to you. You agree that TriMet will not be liable to you for any modification, suspension or discontinuance of the Service"

- "They dump all liability for any inaccuracies and state that there are zero guarantees as to the accuracy or availability of data." Yes, they do. Just like Portland -- see above.

This is much ado about nothing.

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Brett,

If this is "the biggest piece of ass-covering I've ever seen," then you must have just fallen off the turnip truck on the way into market.

What kind of license would you like to see?

It basically sez: (1) don't pretend you are us & (2) these data are ours, but we let you play with them.

It seems to me to be a common, run-of-the-mill end loser license agreement.

In the last six years, I've collect about 100 of these sores on the body politic and MassDOT's weighs in at 8k next to a Canon license and Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool, both at 8k, too.

The closest analogues I have are NYSE AMEX User Agreement for Real-Time Quotes at 7k and Fidelity's at 3k. The smallest is UPS Tracking Terms and Conditions at 1k. The largest pieces of ass-covering, however, are Microsoft Office EULA from 2008.11.18 at 62k and the RealPlayer license from 2007 at 60k.

Even Craigslist's is about 30k.

These of course exclude the shameful license 'provided' by Adobe, which weighs in at 3MB. But who knows how large it really is, for they prohibit handling it as actual text and they provide it in 35 languages from Arabic to Ukrainian, all with abundant off-pdf links to heaven knows how much legal-beagle obfuscation.

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Brett, If you are looking for a truly bizarre "privacy agreement," try submitting a Customer Comment from the mbta.com website.

In order to do so, one has to read (ha-ha) and agree to a 1935 word long privacy policy.

My Boston neighborhood has dropped out of their Trip Planner database. I thought I'd tell them about it. But, before I can, I've got to submit to some idiot lawyer talk.

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http://www.eot.state.ma.us/developers/ - MassDOT Developers Page (Beta)

http://www.massdotdevelopersconference09.com/ and http://massdotdevconference.eventbrite.com/ --developer conference going on right now at MIT

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In case the dynamic feed gets overloaded:

---
Content-Type: text/plain
Content-Encoding: ISO-8859-1
Content-Language: en

"There's another bus directly behind me."

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HA!

Didn't get this joke the first time I saw it.

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Based off watching it for a few minutes, the app (or the MBTA's data) isn't live by even the 15-second definition of 'live'.

Two busses went by, and in both cases, their markers were on the money but then lagged 6 blocks off. It looks like the busses have dead zones and such.

In another case, one bus appeared near me, but I could tell it wasn't. 15 seconds later, it had magically jumped from being an outbound bus headed towards the endpoint (almost a full mile away), to being an inbound bus headed half a mile on its way.

Another bus approached a known intersection, stopped to pick up a number of passengers, and did not show up on the map at that location at all- the next update was almost two minutes later. Another bus was a full minute behind on the map.

If you're planning on using this to tell when the bus is actually coming, figure the bus is a lot closer than it looks on the map!

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In another case, one bus appeared near me, but I could tell it wasn't. 15 seconds later, it had magically jumped from being an outbound bus headed towards the endpoint (almost a full mile away), to being an inbound bus headed half a mile on its way.

I had exactly the same experience. Then, next thing you know, I had to build a go-kart with my ex-landlord. And everything felt purple.

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IF this could get up and running with some degree of reliability (eg, more reliable than the bus schedule itself), it would make bus commuting much, much, more tolerable. Also, it would provide outside metrics/accountability for the generally shitty performance of the bus system (at least in cambridge/somerville/medford)

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