If you are a developer visiting the open data page of the French RATP, which provides buses and subways in Paris, as well as some suburban trains around, it’s fairly easy to assume you will be looking to use that data to create something useful for everyday users, that is, all the Joe subway commuters.
And what does Joe commuter want to know about his transportation? When it gets him to where he needs to be. The irony with the RATP open data policy, no matter how much they congratulate themselves about being open, is that it’s by and large useless for the regular mass transit users. However, actual real-time transit info, that the RATP has, is nowhere to be seen in the data made open.
Instead, a map of the subway, and some really second-rate info like “RATP-approved local shops around subway stations”, are offered to developers. What’s scary here is that it would seem you have two opposing opinions within RATP. One side is pro-Open Data, and basically wants to make the life of its users better by allowing significant outside innovation to happen (emphasis on significant). If there is indeed people actively fighting Open Data on real-time transit info within RATP, and it’s not just red tape and inertia making this lame, then these people may very well be derailing the Open Data effort within RATP.
It’s pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy if you want to show that Open Data shouldn’t be done, then release only trivial info, which leads to insufficient noticeable innovation or improvement for users, and then just bury this as a useless waste of time. So developers really need to be smart on this one and find ways to impact users positively, so that the RATP people who do champion real Open Data can advocate efficiently the release of the real-time data everyone is waiting for.
State and local initiatives
The French train operator, SNCF, also has an experimental Open Data Lab, in which they have started to offer for two local suburban train lines in Paris, some real-time transit data. This is far from anything that could actually be used to make an app for train users, but it is going in the right direction, ever so slowly.
Now, do these big companies have so much they need to figure out before releasing anything serious, really? If you look at the city of Rennes, regional capital of Brittany, they seem to have successfully opened pretty much all of their data available from library statistics to mass transit info, with some real time in there, though there is still some way to go.
The point here is that even if this is a work in progress for even pioneers like Rennes was in France, at least they seem to try seriously and apply themselves to this, and it will be a great day when RATP and SNCF give us the sense that they are trying just as hard. It would even put to rest the numerous comments that the data that remains hidden because of very wrong reasons, such as not respecting their timetable obligations but still getting money from their contracts with the state just as if they did respect their timetables.. To be continued.