Trillium Blog

News and commentary about transit and online information from Trillium

The future of transportation is in open data, not centralized control

I’ve seen this rolling around social media: the Helsinki plan to create a centralized transportation network offering truly mutli-modal trip planning and a unified payment system, accessible through a standardized smartphone application. It’s a really impressive vision.

Helsinki’s plan, I think, is developed in recognition that to offer the same flexibility as single-occupancy vehicle travel, we need a “multi-modal supernetwork”: one with great public transportation, car-sharing choices, convenient taxis (like Uber), rideshare, bikeshare, and a good bike lane network. But a transportation network with so many options becomes complicated to navigate, so Helsinki has also included information systems to make this network easily accessible from a single customer interface.

But what about a place where centralized management of the entire transportation system is not possible, or is not seen as desirable? There is a potentially an even better, cheaper, and more effective way to make this ease of mobility a reality worldwide.

The plan in Helsinki appears to be to focus on bringing discrete operators onto a central, controlled platform. Alternatively, through the use of open data standards, publicly available APIs, and independent app developers utilizing and combining data from many sources, the transportation system can be presented in a more unified (and customized) way. A multi-modal transportation network with some centralized control and management, but which also allows for some adaptability and organic growth and formation (facilitated by open data), is ultimately more resilient and supportive of innovation.

Trillium may focus its work on public transit, but our mission is larger: our mission is human mobility. This means working towards finding ways of helping all people—no matter where they are, no matter what their reason, no matter what their abilities, needs, and preferences—get where they’re going, as easily as possible and with the lowest possible negative impact on their environment. Our work in public transit is one small piece of that puzzle. We work with other organizations in other transportation industries, creating interconnections between modes of transportation to work towards a multi-modal super network that can get anyone anywhere.

That vision is too complex to be centralized and too big to be controlled. Open data offers a way to create a world where information is easy-to-find not because it is centralized, but because it is distributed: accessible through any platform that speaks the right ‘languages’ and to anyone who needs to move.

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Trails and Transit: Trillium on KHUM’s “Happy Trails”

Earlier this month, I was on the radio with KHUM’s “Happy Trails” program. I spoke with hosts Cliff Berkowitz and Emily Sinkhorn about the mission of Trillium and how the work I did with Green Wheels and Humboldt State University 7 years ago informs our current work with public transit agencies.

The mission of Happy Trails, to see a regional trails and bike lanes system across the Humboldt County area, is much like the mission of Trillium itself. Public transit is part of a wider picture, which allows mobility in conjunction with other modes of transportation including rider-owned bikes and bike sharing, car-sharing, and intercity/international transportation systems. Coordination between these systems can help people move from one place to another, but also simply help them move by connecting them to recreational trails and encouraging active transportation.

In 2007, I helped Humboldt Transit Authority become one of the early agencies in the nation to publish GTFS data, making the transit system easier to use and navigate. But this project was originally part of the mission of Green Wheels, which aimed to promote all types of mobility in the Humboldt County area, in particular a Humboldt Bay Trail connecting Eureka and Arcata. Today, it is possible to plan public transit trips from Humboldt County to neighboring systems in adjacent counties, including trips to the nearby Redwood National Park. Humboldt County’s multi-modal transportation system continues to grow.

Check out the recording of the Happy Trails program here. We had a great discussion of how public transit fits into these other transportation networks and outdoor recreation. And contact Trillium if you’d like to learn about how we can help your public transit system connect with other mobility networks in your region.

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GTFS in the World – Workshop on Open Transit Data (Washington DC, Wed, Jan 15)

If you are in town for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting, join me, other transport technologists, and policy-makers at “GTFS in the World” a workshop on open transit data.

This is a follow-up to the GTFS in the World event in November 2013.

When: January, 15 2:30PM to 5:30PM
Where: Organization of American States Padilha Vidal Meeting Room (Terrace Level), 1889 F Street NW, Washington DC

Full information for GTFS in the World here (please RSVP).

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Critical Transit Podcast Episode #44

Jeremy Mendelson publishes the Critical Transit blog and podcast, a journal of best practices in sustainable transportation.

I was recently interviewed for Critical Transit Episode #44, “Transit Data, Marketing & Communication with Aaron Antrim”.

If you have thoughts or questions, post comments here or on the Critical Transit blog and I will respond.

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