Open APIs and Public Accountability

In addition to providing the data streams that enable multimodal trips and fostering a fair, competitive marketplace, open APIs can also provide a vital source of information to the public about services permitted to operate on city streets.

Bikeshare in New York, NY

Advocates and journalists at Streetsblog used Citi Bike’s public GBFS feed to verify a sudden drop in the number of available bikes in September 2018. By comparing the drop to bikeshare systems in other cities, they identified a bike maintenance problem in New York and pressed the operator for service improvements.

Scooters in Chicago, IL

Academics at DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development issued a report in August 2019 that used GBFS feeds to analyze how scooters were distributed across different neighbourhoods. The researchers found that while operators were deploying fewer vehicles than permitted by the city, they were meeting the city’s goal of equitably distributing available scooters in priority areas.

Carshare in Montreal, QC

Journalists at CBC/Radio-Canada were able to corroborate local complaints about on-street parking in 2016 by using car2go’s API. (The API has since been closed to the public, before car2go eventually withdrew from the North American market.) The reporters analyzed which neighbourhoods had the most car2go vehicles, and established that carshare vehicles had more curbside turnover than privately-owned cars.

Ridehail in Washington, DC

Journalist academics at the University of Maryland, writing for the Washington Post in 2016, found which neighbourhoods were best served by Uber after analyzing wait times from the service’s API. They discovered that people in higher-income, whiter, denser, and more centrally located areas were most likely to find an Uber driver quickly, while lower-income, non-white, and less central locations received lower levels of service. (Uber has since closed its API to the general public.)

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