This weekend here in NYC is Transportation Camp. While I can’t make it out to what’s already sounding like it’s been an amazing event, I thought the moment marked a nice time to look back at one of the successes we’ve seen around open transportation here in New York City.

Last May, the MTA hosted an Unconference for Developers, where I got to moderate a panel before MTA CEO Jay Walder announced the MTA’s open data sets that were made newly available for use by developers. There was amazing response from the developer community, as well as accolades from transit geeks like Benjamin Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas (one of my favorite blogs).

MTA Whiz Kid

Today, less than a year later, it seems like the effort is really succeeding. Just a few weeks ago, Alexander Chen’s brilliant, beautiful MTA.ME caught an enormous amount of attention for its combination of realtime subway data and unabashed artistry. You can read Alexander’s own explanation, but the core takeaway I got from the popularity of MTA.ME was that he’d succeeded in reaching an audience of people who may not be transit geeks, and almost certainly didn’t have to have a prior interest in realtime subway data. That’s a measure of exactly the sort of success I think we all hoped to see at the moment the data sets were released.

Just as importantly, countless subway riders each day get to see that the MTA is looking at all of this innovation the right way. Many subway cars have house ads for the MTA, which offer the following explanation of their open data strategy:

Our apps are whiz kid certified. Instead of developing transit apps ourselves, we gave our info to the people who do it best. Search the web for ‘NY transit apps’ to see what we mean.”

It’s a subtle point, but note that the MTA isn’t advertising that they’ve made apps themselves, they’re promoting that they’ve encouraged an entire ecosystem of apps to thrive. That shows a prescience and ambition that really gives me hope that the NYC transportation system I love so much actually will get combined with the innovations of the tech world that occupies so much of my professional attention. As somebody who’s a life long tech geek and transit geek, that’s incredibly exciting.

(Thanks to Alexis Ohanian for the photo.