So WMATA is back in the news today, for a few things. One, Metro released a whole bunch of mostly useless transit data after being petitioned to do so by some prickly bloggers. For those of you who haven't been following that whole thing, those go-getters over at Greater Greater Washington had been calling for WMATA to release their scheduling and location data to Google for use with Google Transit. Generally transit agencies give this information to Google so it can be incorporated on Google Maps and encourage people to use transit. WMATA wanted to get money from Google, and decided it wouldn't really be worth it to release the data for free. WMATA insists that their new web site is so totally awesome that no one would possibly want to use Google Maps instead.
Bloggers, being up in arms about this data wanting to be free, started a petition and eventually WMATA caved. They've released the data, but with enough legal restrictions that Google probably won't use it, and as of 10:30 Monday morning the web site didn't even work. In order to download the data, you agree to release WMATA from any and all liability for errors, and you also agree that while the data is free right now, WMATA can change that at any time and begin charging for it.
Whew. Glad I got all that one out. This was not a victory for bloggers, and I'll go out on a limb here and say this release of data isn't going to do much for anyone. Other than give those people over at GGW some "blog street cred." Hey, I like fantasy Metro maps as much as the next person. However, this isn't some outstanding victory. WMATA caved, but only to the degree that it's cooperation is for the most part, useless.
And in other news, as we all could have guessed, there are still horrible problems with oversight at Metro. Over at the Washington Post, Reports Question Metro's Finances.
In some cases, there were inadequate physical safeguards for cash and Farecards. For example, security cameras at two Metro sales offices remained broken for two years. Supervisors said they alerted sales office managers, but no action was taken. After sales office workers found cash and Farecards missing, requests for action were not acted upon or investigated, according to Inspector General Helen Lew.
Metro has also failed to track how federal funds are spent, the audit found. The agency has received about $2.2 billion in federal grants over the past 10 years, primarily from the Federal Transit Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. The funds are for capital projects, such as overhauling buses and rail cars, and they can be spent only for those specific purposes.
But in several instances, the inspector general found, the accounting was inaccurate. For example, Metro spent $46,000 to buy two police motorcycles with money for preventive rail maintenance. Metrobus managers spent $264,000 on 50 laptop computers under a line item for 40-foot hybrid electric buses. (The laptops were to be installed in supervisors' vehicles to help them track bus locations.)
Of course they don't keep track funds. Can't exactly ledger "operating prostitution ring out of station" or "spending time replying to annoying bloggers." Perhaps some of the stimulus package could be used to get WMATA on Twitter. Oh wait, they already are.