The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) this week announced that it would be hosting a contest for app developers to come up with apps for smartphones that would aid bus and subway riders, as well as drivers using the city's bridges and tunnels. As an added incentive, the top prize is $5,000, with lesser prizes going to the most creative and popular ideas, as voted on by users. The voting will take place in September.
There have already been several industrious developers who have created apps for mass transit users independent of the MTA. To its credit, the MTA recognized that there was an untapped resource out there of creative people who could help make the agency more transparent and user friendly.
Rather than immediately cut off that resource out of fear that more transparency would open the MTA up to more criticism, the MTA instead made itself more available by putting vast amounts of data on its website, such as bus routes and services statuses, to make it easier for developers to create even more apps for its users.
We think the rest of government should follow suit. Why couldn't the Department of Buildings put QR Codes on building permits posted at construction sites that residents could scan and file a complaint if they see unsafe construction practices? Or perhaps the Department of City Planning could develop an app that could use the GPS built into a smartphone to give you the zoning for a three-block radius and what is allowed, so residents can monitor out-of-scale development?
We're not app developers, but were sure the possibilities are endless.
And to his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been proactive about opening up city government and making more transparent and responsive to the residents it is supposed to serve, to varying degrees of success. We say follow the MTA's lead and try everything possible.