This letter on MTA transparency went out today. Comments welcome.

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Jun 28, 2011, 10:47:21 AM6/28/11
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Citizens Union

Common Cause/NY

New York City Transit Riders Council

New York Civil Liberties Union

New York State League of Women Voters

NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

Open New York Forum

Regional Plan Association

Reinvent Albany

Transportation Alternatives

Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Women’s City Club of New York



June 28, 2011


Jay Walder

Chairman, MTA

347 Madison Avenue

New York, New York 10017

Dear Chairman Walder:

We write to congratulate the MTA on its recently redesigned website,
which gives more information to the public and features the App
Center, showcasing third-party apps. The agency’s web initiatives have
benefited the riding public with applications that provide up-to-date
service information and also increase the MTA’s transparency and
accountability.

Our groups believe that online data has great potential to make
government at all levels more transparent and accountable. In that
spirit, we suggest the MTA take seven steps to increase its openness
and its benefits to riders.

First, publish online and in searchable format many of the public
reports of the MTA and its operating subsidiaries. This is one of the
most important steps for increasing public understanding of the
workings and performance of the MTA.

We suggest that you start with key reports such as Finance Watch and
Budget Watch, which provide detailed and timely information on how
taxes and revenues are performing. All tables and charts in those
documents should be available as CSV files or in their native
spreadsheet formats, such as the MTA now does for bus and subway
ridership data.

Similarly, the MTA should make possible tracking of month-to-month and
longer trends in the ridership and finances of the MTA and its
operating subsidiaries.

It is a major step forward that many of these documents are now
available online, in a pdf format. It would be a big leap ahead to
publish documents in a format that allow comparisons over time

It is also important to keep an electronically accessible archive of
these documents. Currently Board and Committee materials are taken off
the website after a few months. Anyone looking for earlier material
must visit MTA offices after seeking permission to view the hardcopy
documents. In addition, some material distributed to members at
Committee meetings is never available on the website.

Secondly, publish an annual directory of the MTA’s computerized data.
It would be very helpful to developers and the riding public for the
MTA to publish a directory with computerized information produced or
maintained by its agencies and which is required by law to be publicly
accessible. Such a directory could include specific descriptions of
the contents, format and methods of accessing such information, and
the name, title, office address, and office telephone number of the
official in each agency responsible for receiving inquires about such
information.

Thirdly, make data accessible to the larger riding public, not just
“app” developers. Many people cannot use the complex “machine-
readable data” on the developer’ resources page on www.mta.info.

The federal government’s www.data.gov is a good model here. Many data
sets are available in common formats and the site makes it easier to
download programs that help citizens obtain data. Data is organized
into catalogues; there are many explanatory captions, a FAQ’s page,
helpful links and a glossary of terms. This site is a good example of
the kind of assistance that could be provided:
http://www.ehow.com/how_5091077_use-csv-files.html.

Fourthly, appoint a Director of Open Government Data at the MTA. This
position could combine responsibilities for open data, apps
development, and transparency into one full-time post. It is our
understanding that currently, these responsibilities are split among
several people on an ad hoc basis.

Fifthly, incorporate Internet options into your approaches to public
awareness of your projects and activities. For example, your mega-
project pages, such as for the Second Avenue Subway, 7 Line
Extension, and East Side Access tell visitors who want updates: "As an
interested member of the public, you can visit this website for
updates, join our mailing list [postal mail], and attend public
meetings." Shouldn’t there be an option to be notified of project
developments by email?

Sixthly, consider further changes to mta.info homepage content and
layout, such as making it easier to find contact information.

Finally, consider making available the data bases below. We believe
that this information has great potential value to the public. But it
could not be found under developers’ resources page on www.mta.info.
It’s possible some of the data below is provided in a form or place
that we are not aware of – or is already under development. We
apologize if that is the case for any of these data bases.

• Transit Alerts: The available digital archive of real-time "transit
alerts" sent by email or text by the MTA or its operating subsidiaries
to alert riders with information on specific delays;

• Incidents: The available digital archive of complaints and incidents
(without personal identification);

• Diversions: Upcoming and real-time weekend service diversion
information;

• Clocks: The ability to see the subway countdown clock information
online;

• Lost and Found: The number of items found and claimed losses
(without identification) in the MTA New York City Transit "lost and
found" database; and

• Polls: Existing an ongoing rider opinion polls and surveys about
quality of service.

We appreciate the MTA’s consideration of our suggestions and will call
to arrange for a meeting with your staff.

Sincerely (for the groups),


Gene Russianoff
NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign
grus...@nypirg.org


----------------------------
Gene Russianoff
office: 212-349-6460
cell: 917-575-9434
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