Develop written policies that delimit the use and distribution of data.

A national experience with resolving the issues regarding the collection, distribution, and retention of transportation data.

Phoenix,Arizona,United States; San Antonio,Texas,United States; Seattle,Washington,United States; New York City,New York,United States

Background (Show)

Lesson Learned

The value of the MDI operations lay in the data that is generated by the equipment and systems involved. Data policy issues that have been reviewed and tackled by the MDI partners include resolving the questions of: (1) who owns the data generated, (2) how this information will be shared among partners and to whom should this information be released, (3) how to protect confidential information, and (4) what the proper use of and retention time frame for videotapes are. The MDI forced the primary partners to formalize the direction that they were already headed regarding distributing traffic and traveler-related data.

One lesson learned from the experiences of the MDI public sector participants is to develop written policies that delimit the use and distribution of data. This lesson may be helpful to representatives of other metropolitan areas when facilitating ITS deployment.

  • Formalize policies regarding distribution of data. Public officials in Arizona believe that transportation information should be easily available and free to the public because the public’s funds enabled it to be gathered, implying that it is essentially already in the public domain. Currently, in compliance with Arizona Department of Transportation policy, AZTech releases transportation-related data to both the public and private sectors under the Freedom of Information Act. Private sector individuals and agencies that request information are sometimes charged if AZTech incurs a cost in providing the information. Television stations are given live video feed at no cost except for hook-up fees.
    An issue tied to the distribution of information is the taping of traffic flows captured by the video monitoring cameras along the roadways. The participants see transportation data collection and distribution as liability and procedural issues, not privacy issues. Camera-based traffic monitoring systems used by the state and cities, however, have generated the greatest level of privacy anxieties, although public sector partners report there is less concern than anticipated. The concerns involve what the cameras monitor and how operators and others, including law enforcement personnel, use the traffic information.
  • Share data freely as long as there is not a substantial cost to the agency. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) policy for sharing data, which is also applied to Smart Trek, is that WSDOT staff will give the data to anyone who requests it, as long as there is not a substantial cost to the WSDOT to provide the information. WSDOT officials have been willing to fund the distribution of the data because the dissemination of data benefits the MDI project. Transportation-related information from the WSDOT is regularly distributed on the Internet. Traffic data and other "paper data" is considered public information. Presently, the primary restriction to information access is the physical limitations of the system. Access to this information will be greater as the system moves from phone line connections to expanded Internet availability.
    Because of the media’s ability to quickly reach a wide audience, the WSDOT policy actually gives the media a priority over other users. The WSDOT provides video images to the media, but the media outlet has to make the connection. If external agencies put in the receivers, WSDOT staff will make the connection with them. Currently, there is no charge for the connection and none are anticipated.
    The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) data policy is to share as much information as possible. In keeping with the Texas Open Records Act, all highway, transit, and traffic signal data are readily available to the public, with few restrictions. One of these few restrictions is that the media is not allowed in the TransGuide control room, thus limiting their access to information that is displayed there. The policy is that stated traffic data (speeds and counts) and video images can be released over the Internet on the TxDOT Web page and over the telephone. This policy is to be applied to both the TransGuide operation in San Antonio and the TransStar operation in Houston.
    The San Antonio Police Department (PD) has a policy covering accident and incident report data. The individual requester must know the case number, the name of the person involved, or the location of the accident to get the specific accident report. This policy aids in discouraging attorneys who want to search accident reports and other police department resources for potential clients. The San Antonio PD also has policies that cover the retention of recorded information; usually, records are not retained for longer than 30 days.
  • Develop a regional information policy. In the New York Metropolitan Area, TRANSCOM (the Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee) staff are developing a regional information policy that will be applied to numerous projects, including the Trips 123 MDI and the I-95 Corridor Coalition’s ATIS project. The policy sets out what information is deemed to be "TRANSCOM information" and, therefore, the property of TRANSCOM and included under the rules of this policy. The policy further presents who may have access to the information, the level of compensation required for the information, and how compensation will be established. Briefly, TRANSCOM policy states that any public or private organization that will use the information for the purpose of generating revenues shall compensate TRANSCOM for this information.

In summary, all of the MDI sites have policies that primarily allow open access to the transportation information generated by the MDI equipment. But that information is shared through formalized agency policies, with each of the agencies addressing those policies in different ways. The access and use of data by law enforcement agencies have required a great deal of discussion and policy detail to ensure the privacy of the general public was protected. For instance, in Arizona, the decision by ADOT management to make all camera feeds used for monitoring available to the public has worked well. In addition, agencies might find a written policy on camera use helpful. Furthermore, agencies must resolve if video surveillance tapes will be made, for what purpose, and who may gain access to them.

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Successful Approaches to Deploying a Metropolitan Intelligent Transportation System

Author: Allan DeBlasio, et al.

Published By: Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office

Source Date: 3/1/1999

EDL Number: 8483

Other Reference Number: FHWA-JPO-99-032; DOT-VNTSC-FHWA-98-7

URL: https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/4289

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Lesson ID: 2005-00123