BART launches API to spur innovation in transit app development


BART launches API to spur innovation in transit app development

Today marks the formal launch of BART’s expanded API.

If your first question is "What’s an API?" and, second, "Why should I care?" – this article is for you!  (If you already know, you can head on over to the Developer Resources section for more technical detail.)

API stands for Application Programming Interface – sets of routines, data structures and protocols that support the building of applications. BART has a long commitment to making its data open to the public – such as the schedules for trains, and advisories when there are delays. We were the first Bay Area transit agency to provide public open data, starting in 2007.

The ways the public gets that data have evolved and expanded over time, as new technologies have come along to deliver information faster, more accurately and on a plethora of platforms.

In the past the public got data from BART directly – you went to the QuickPlanner on our main website, or called our phone lines, or looked at an electronic sign in a station, or, more recently, used a mobile device to access our mobile site, or to get an email or text message sent directly from us to you.

And you still can. But we don’t have a monopoly on great ideas, and like most government agencies our resources are shrinking. So we want to tap into the rich vein of innovation that already exists here in the Bay Area, and make our data available to developers who can use it to create services our customers want.

The API does just that. It makes publicly available more BART data than ever before, and does so in a way that developers can use more easily. No doubt you’ve heard the tagline from a certain Cupertino company (more like a pop-culture punchline for countless cliché jokes now):  “There’s an app for that!”

Well, the BART API will help developers make apps for whatever you need (OK, maybe not a teleporter, but within reason).  And, with a developer email list and an online discussion group that we sponsor for developers, we can be a liaison to help convey your needs to them.

Want your phone to buzz and wake you up just before your station if you’re a BART sleeper? There could be an app for that! A tracker to compare your BART travel time to the current traffic conditions if you drove across the Bay Bridge? There could be an app for that! A wondrous program that does something with BART data on The Device You Love – your ereader, your game player, your Segway, the latest, greatest, whatever it is? The only limitations are enough interest and imagination to make it happen and enough ingenuity in those who can create it.

Here’s one more example. Dave Barrowman of Oakland does Palm development on the side of his day job and is one of the first developers to use the newly expanded API, for his pBART application. He explained that the addition of new info to the data stream – like trip planning and bike information – helps him create new things that customers might want. He’s working on a function that will show the user at a quick glance whether bikes are allowed on any portion of a multi-leg trip involving transfers.

"Almost everyone has a mobile device now, so you’re able to have all the information in your pocket," he said. And as more developers start using the data, it’s likely there will be more choice for customers and more applications created for different platforms.

So ... give a little thought to what kinds of data-related products or services might improve your BART experience. Check out the applications (some free and some for a fee, available on multiple platforms and devices) that already exist and are listed in our app center.

Drop us a line and we’ll collect those thoughts to share with developers. We don’t endorse any particular application, but want to encourage competition and innovation that will result in the best possible products and services for you, the BART customer.