JCDecaux bringing real Open Data for Paris bike riders

Digital sovereignty
CC photo by Soroll
CC photo by Soroll

Paris, like many other French cities, has a network of bicycle stations called Velib, where people with (very cheap) subscriptions can take a bike for free for as long as a half-hour. However, up until now, the data of what stations are full of available bikes, and which have space to put one back, was not open, and the overall information available to users pretty basic. This is all changing this spring (FR)!

The data will be provided free of charge to developers by French outdoors advertising company JCDecaux, which runs the Velib, in partnership with the city of Paris. While Paris is still way behind London for example when it comes to public transportation data, or even French Brittany regional capital Rennes, this initiative does finally seem to get it right, and should be recognized as such. This announcement by JCDecaux comes on the heel of their sponsoring of a connected cities startup incubator, in Paris as well. Some things are moving here, but it’s only for bicycles, and it would be a welcome change if the major mass transit operators (bus, subway, rail) got onboard with OpenData a little faster than the sloth’s pace they have displayed over the last few years.

As JCDecaux and the city of Paris did, these operators need to realize once and for all that OpenData is good for users and that part of their job is to make the lives of aforementioned users easier. What they do is this far more of the symbolic than of the firehose variety: that means you, RATP operating buses and subways (still as useless as in mid-2012), and you, SNCF operating trains. To be fair, SNCF has actually been getting a lot better in the last few months with some real time transit info open now (FR), though there is still plenty missing, such as a national train lines real-time API for example. Let’s hope improvements in open data pick up the pace, that mass transit operators send decision-makers to events like the Lift conference, and that they feel more than a little inspired by the OpenData City challenge.