Montreal, where data is becoming free

This post has also been published at openfile.ca

The City of Montreal has jumped on the open data bandwagon, setting up a website with raw data available for download.

There isn’t that much there right now (a full list is available in their press release), but the fact that the city even acknowledges the use of this is a huge step forward, and means we should expect much more in the months to come.

The idea behind open data is that information be made publicly available in its purest form. Instead of charts or long reports, the actual spreadsheet tables or map files are posted online so that application developers can find new and interesting ways of presenting information for public consumption.

For an example, here’s a Google map of the city’s major construction projects currently under way.

Now, this map doesn’t include highway projects that are done by the Ministère de Transport du Québec, or bridge projects under federal jurisdiction. But if those organizations had similar raw data available, a mashup of them together would be trivial. That information could then be used by GPS devices or trip planners to plan around construction sites. Or they could be used by radio station traffic reporters, or by investigative journalists, or by FTQ union thugs.

The best part is that the best use of this data might be something the people who put it online never even considered. The limits are not technological in nature, but merely the limits of the imaginations of thousands of computer geeks.

Another example: This XLS file of bike path counters. A few seconds in the spreadsheet and I find the busiest day for cyclists so far this year was Tuesday, June 21. And the top 25 days are all between May 30 and July 10. Without the raw data, I would have needed to wait for some bureaucrat to create an annual report, if they even bothered at all.

The STM should follow this example

One organization that I think could substantially benefit from an open data policy is the Société de transport de Montréal. Somewhere, it has a huge database of thousands of bus stops and schedules. It uses that data to feed its website, to give to Google Maps, and to create its printed schedules. But the data isn’t available directly to developers. So independent apps that help people know when the bus stops have to scrape the STM’s website for the information.

Giving the data away could help significantly in making these applications better, and in finding new ways of getting information to people that would encourage them to take public transit.

I look forward to seeing what data gets released through this website, and particularly how developers can take that data and do interesting and useful things with it.

If this kind of thing interests you, by the way, Montréal Ouvert is holding a hackathon on Nov. 19. Hopefully the city can put some more stuff online by then that can be played with there.

UPDATE: A congratulatory post from Montréal Ouvert, and more coverage from:

And here’s Projet Montréal shitting all over it because it’s not transparent enough for their liking.

UPDATE (Nov. 1): The city is launching the portal on Nov. 15. And a new iPhone app, NaviCone, is already making use of the city’s construction site mapping data.

11 thoughts on “Montreal, where data is becoming free

  1. Daniel Haran

    Google Transit is available in many cities that release their information, so this seems quite unlikely.

    If it is, the city has some explaining to do: why is it helping a foreign multinational compete while locking out local potential competitors (local developers)? It’s shameful.

    Reply
  2. Lyle

    Quite the misrepresentation of the Projet Montréal comments on the initiative. And in such shrill, obscene terms, too, which I don’t see elsewhere on your site. I guess that reveals a lot more about your own political choices than it does on what PM is trying to say.

    Reply
  3. emdx

    Well, for a start, here is an Autocad file of all the Montréal’s streets:

    http://w3.emdx.org/t/CarteRuesMontreal.dwg

    I have no idea where it comes from. It magically appeared one day many years ago in my inbox from a hotmail address that never answered back. So grab it while it’s there because it may not stay there for long.

    Oh, if you don’t have Autocad, fret no more, you can download this free, fully-functional Autocad clone:

    http://www.3ds.com/fr/products/draftsight/overview/

    Reply
  4. Alex Norris

    Steve, I fail to see how our Projet Montréal release constitutes ”shitting” on this inintiative. Yes, this open-data initiative by the Tremblay administration is a step in the right direction. But let’s face it: it is a very limited step. Among the thirteen ”open data” databases now available to the public, according to the Tremblay admin press release, are the following categories: ”borough territorial limits,” ”fire station locations” and ”rink locations and opening hours,” along with a plethora of other information which is already readily available elsewhere online. We are not arguing that the information made available through this portal is useless or pointless or entirely without merit — just that this initiative is not nearly comprehensive enough to constitute anything resembling truly transparent governance or a true municipal open-data policy. Our press release points out, by way of example, a simple open-data, open-governance measure that our Projet Montréal administration on the Plateau has taken but which the City of Montreal is still refusing to take: publishing, online, prior to each borough council session, not only the agenda (”ordre du jour”) but also the executive summaries (”sommaires décisionnels”) that are provided to us by our senior civil servants for each item we vote on at borough council. To date, we are the only borough administration in Montreal to do this. We think it provides critical information to the public about political and administrative decisionmaking. After adopting this policy at the borough level, we proposed a motion that the same practice be adopted by the central city administration. The Tremblay majority voted our motion down. In short, this latest announcement by Alain Tassé concerns a worthwhile but limited initiative — but it is not one that not goes anywhere nearly far enough. In short, we are not ”shitting” on this announcement — just calling it as we see it.
    Alex Norris
    City Councillor, Mile End district
    (Projet Montréal)

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      We are not arguing that the information made available through this portal is useless or pointless or entirely without merit — just that this initiative is not nearly comprehensive enough to constitute anything resembling truly transparent governance or a true municipal open-data policy.

      I don’t think the city would disagree with you. Even they point out this is a start. They haven’t even officially launched it yet. My point is that Projet’s reaction to this was mostly negative when it could have been encouraging and, dare I say it, optimistic.

      Reply
  5. emdx

    Another disturbing thing is the availability of GIS data.

    You used to be able to access some GIS data on the «Navigateur Urbain» website, but now the access is “forbidden”: http://navurb.com/

    In the past, I have been able to download whole GIS database of the city of Ottawa on it’s website, but such data is not accessible for Montréal.

    I have had enquired about that matter, and it seems that it would be feasible to purchase it, for a cost on the order of $100,000.

    One could argue that it cost the city a lot of money to compile all this data, but that money came directly from our taxpayer’s pockets so it effectively belongs to us.

    Montréal has had a very disturbing history of secrecy, dating back to the Führer Drapeau dark ages; it seems that there are still plenty of Drapeau cronies thoughout the administration…

    Reply
  6. Alex Norris

    Our job as an opposition party is to push the administration to do a better job, to go further, faster, when it comes to open government. You think we should have praised this initiative when it is in fact extremely limited in scope and usefulness? I respectfully disagree. We said it was a step in the right direction — but not nearly comprehensive enough. Of course, we want to ”encourage” more open government, but, no, we’re not ”optimistic” that the Tremblay administration is serious about open government as a goal.
    This piece in the Mirror has a similar take to ours on this ”open data” initiative. http://www.montrealmirror.com/wp/2011/11/03/limp-data/ Will you also chastise the author of this piece, and the open-government advocates it quotes, for not having been ”encouraging” and ”optimistic” enough? Let’s face it: this is a very limited initative from an administration that has shown very little interest in genuine transparency — as their refusal to publish sommaires décisionnels online (as the Plateau has been doing for almost 2 years) shows.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Our job as an opposition party is to push the administration to do a better job, to go further, faster, when it comes to open government.

      “Our job as an opposition party” sounds like politics-as-usual. It’s why people don’t trust opposition parties.

      You think we should have praised this initiative when it is in fact extremely limited in scope and usefulness?

      Yes. Because it is better than nothing, and it is expected to grow. Your statement that it’s “extremely limited in scope and usefulness” is based on a small set of initial data that was uploaded to start with. Praising it doesn’t disqualify you from pointing out that it should be much bigger.

      This piece in the Mirror has a similar take to ours on this ”open data” initiative.

      Yes, but not nearly as negative in tone, even though it is quite critical. I have no issue with the Mirror article.

      Reply
  7. Alex Norris

    Okay, sorry we disappointed you this time. I will pass your criticisms on. All I ask is: please consider our argument (concerning the “sommaires décisionnels”) notwithstanding your dismay over the form it takes. This isn’t just opposition posturing; it’s a policy we’ve already implemented at the borough level and there’s no reason it can’t be done city-wide.

    Alex

    Reply

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