Open-Source Software: What Can It Do for Mobility Management? Part 1
- Author: Kevin Chambers
- Date: June 9, 2020
When the topic of using technology in the public interest comes up, open-source software (OSS) is a frequent phrase on…
The first and second posts of this series provided background information on open-source software (OSS) and examples of the business models that support OSS projects. But what does all this have to do with mobility management?
The short answer: No. Although OSS is used in public transportation contexts, it’s not really part of mobility management’s small slice of that big pie. In addition to OpenTripPlanner, which was covered in part 2 of this series, examples of current transit-related OSS projects include:
For a detailed list that covers OSS and a multitude of transit-related technology, see this community-generated compilation from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of Southern Florida.
While there are multiple organizations supporting open data for transit (like MobilityData), currently, the worlds of mobility management and OSS don’t overlap much, even though there are many overlapping values, such as the mutual emphasis on collaboration and sharing of resources.
The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is one of the premier agencies in the United States that uses open source tools to support mobility management. Ryan Taylor, UTA Coordinated Mobility Manager, describes mobility managers’ challenges: “We’re really fortunate in Utah. We have a large staff and we have an investment from our agency. And we have support with the direction that we’ve gone. That being said, I think that a lot of mobility managers are stretched really thin. I think they’re asked to do a lot with very little, many are working on a shoestring budget. I think it’s difficult for them to want to jump into an unknown world of open source as a mobility manager.”
There are at least three barriers to connecting mobility managers with OSS.
Capacity building could help overcome these barriers, but it would take a concerted effort to make a big impact.
As hinted at in the overview of the Postgres and OpenTripPlanner projects, open source solutions are most powerful when there is a critical mass of users and contributors. Ryan Taylor values open source for “the ability that it gives you to build upon and share without having to have multiple investments in the same thing.” The most efficient way for open source solutions to take hold is for a large funder (national or at least state-level) to provide seed funding for multiple implementations. That way, from the beginning a community of users can share the benefits as new features and customizations are developed.
There are ways to get involved with OSS, even before a large funder steps up to support the first OSS project dedicated to mobility management.
Our magic 8 ball gave us the answer “Reply hazy, try again.” There are precedents outside the transit/mobility realm for organized OSS development, such as the electronic medical record software available through OpenEMR. What would it mean for our sector to be “ready” to launch an open-source development effort paired with a nonprofit foundation? A good starting point could be identifying an unmet need for specific software. Is there a need for an open-source tool that’s just for mobility managers? Let us know what you think at email@example.com.
Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (firstname.lastname@example.org).