Finally, a bike-sharing program is coming to San Francisco! What Europeans figured out years ago will be a reality in the Bay Area by this August. The plan is to put 700 bikes at 70 different stations in the City and throughout the Bay Area—where residents can quickly hop on a bicycle at one station, and drop it off at another. Appallicious is very excited about this new program, not only because we’re looking forward to hopping on these new bikes ourselves, but also in order for the program to be successful, the utilization of open data will be key. That’s why I’ll be joining sf.citi and the San Francisco Bike Coalition at Yammer on Wednesday, for a conversation about the launch of the new program and how open data and the tech community at large fits in.
Once the bike share program starts, it’s going to be extremely important to know where the heaviest demand for bikes are at certain times during the day, and certain days during the week. It’s safe to assume that on a Monday morning, you’re going to need more bikes in residential areas, and less in the Financial District, since commuters will be biking to work. But with any program like this, unexpected variables are bound to come up, and this is where open data will come in.
The bikes and bike stations will most certainly have a GPS component where the city will be able to track bikes in use, and the amount that have been checked in or out at each station. Companies like Appallicious will then be able to synthesize this data and not only help the City of San Francisco figure out where and when the heaviest demand for bikes is, but can also inform citizens through mobile applications how many bikes are available at a specific station at any given time. Just like the features on the SF Rec and Park App we developed allows you to find parks, playgrounds, dog parks, picnic tables, and more — we could also bring bicycle availability right into the app! It will be just like checking the availability of a ZipCar at a nearby parking garage.
Once this raw data is available to Appallicious, there are quite a few steps before it can be packaged and presented to bike riders in a way that will help them figure out bike availability, or to city leaders who need to know which stations need more bikes, and which ones need less. The idea of the public sector providing the private sector with information like this is nothing new. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive guaranteeing that GPS signals would be available at no charge to the world when sucha a system became operational, in the wake of a Korean Airlines flight that was shot down after accidentally flying into Russian airspace.
The Obama administration has continued to promote the idea of “sustainable innovation” that President Reagan helped start. The GPS directive from Reagan has created a $250 billion a year navigation industry. Think about GPS companies like Garmin or applications like Google Maps that rely on GPS—without Open GPS, these companies would have never have been created, and we’d still have stacks of paper maps from AAA stuffed in our glove compartments!
With this renewed push for open data, through President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, there is a chance for the United States to build a new, thriving and successful industry through information released to the public by city governments. As more and more information is released by cities all over the country and the world, companies are going to be able to step up and provide new technology that allow citizens to access and benefit from this information.
In San Francisco, open data advocates like Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor David Chiu have just passed new open data legislation that will allow companies like Appallicious to create apps and change the way in which cities and governments are able to operate for years to come.
The possibilities are endless, and I am extremely excited to see how innovators and entrepreneurs find revolutionary ways of using this data to make bike sharing easier in San Francisco. Wouldn’t it be cool to integrate the bike-sharing program into the SF Rec and Park App? You could reserve a bike with your app and then take it for a tour of Golden Gate Park or see all the incredible art available throughout the city using the app. The open data movement has the potential to create a thriving, sustainable industry that can create millions of jobs, and a symbiotic relationship between the private and public sectors that could make both more effective, efficient, and profitable.