A thriving mobility market needs open data

We’re excited to share the news today that we’re making information about curbs and tolls, available to the community for free, via our developer platform. We’ve updated our Terms of Service accordingly.

Since we released our San Francisco Curb Explorer last month, we’ve gotten lots of enthusiastic messages from mobility companies, city agencies, and passionate individuals, asking us how they can get similar insights for their cities. We’ve even had folks offering to contribute data about curbs and volunteering to use our Surveyor tool in their city! Residents are excited to know where they can park. Established transportation operators and emerging mobility providers alike have told us that this kind of data can help them optimize operations, making cities more livable. The common theme of the feedback has been that digital curb information such as locations, prices and rules has previously been non-existent, hard to find or unusable. We’re so gladdened that the humble curb is having its moment in the spotlight!

We want to remove friction and increase the distribution of this critical information. It’s clear that for such data to have the greatest impact on mobility in cities, it needs to be open and easy to use. We want software developers at companies, non-profits, and city agencies to use this information to build, test and learn. We want them to do this without the limitations of budget or procurement process.

And, what’s in it for us, you might ask? We’re driven by a vision of seamless mobility for everyone. We believe this requires open access to reliable information about available mobility services. Only then can people enjoy the convenience that comes from buying these services online. Our business model is focused on supporting those transactions. For too long, the absence or siloed nature of this information has slowed this digital transition. We aim to change that.

One API for all the cities

Besides San Francisco, Coord’s Curbs API offers detailed curb service information for Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle. With all four cities together, that’s over 200,000 curbs!

In Los Angeles, we collected curb data for ten commercial districts including Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. As in San Francisco, we used our augmented reality smartphone app to rapidly gather this information.

For New York City and Seattle, we incorporated information about parking sign locations and content from the cities’ open databases (NYC DOT’s traffic sign database and SDOT Street Signs). We then translated this data into our standard format of linear-referenced information. This approach makes it easy to see how a vehicle can to use every stretch of the curb at any given time.

Left: Visual of parking signs from www.nycdot.info. Right: Visual of our API’s rendering of the same area.

Our goal is to help developers connect to many cities with a single integration. One of the biggest challenges of building our Curbs API has been the effort required to normalize across city-specific definitions, idiosyncrasies, and data sources. To complicate matters further, even within a single metropolitan area, different municipalities sometimes use the same marking to communicate different rules. Did you know that time limits on green-painted curbs apply on Sundays in Santa Monica but not in the city of LA? Whether you get a ticket or not can depend on which exact block you’re parked on.

The True Cost of a Trip

Shifting into first gear, let’s drive away from the curb and onto the street. Curb rules are only part of the story — tollways (includes roads, bridges and tunnels) have similar rules. It’s hard to believe that in 2018, a navigation app will tell you how much traffic is on a route but not how much a tolled route will cost. It’s also hard to believe that car rental or car-share customers have to wait weeks after a trip to receive the final bill for any tolls incurred.

That’s because toll information is published in disparate formats by different tolling agencies. This patchwork has made toll information hard for software developers to integrate into apps and convey to users at scale. For example, to find out the total toll costs for traveling between the Jersey Shore and Midtown Manhattan (a.k.a. “Thunder Road”), one would have to know the relevant tollways by name, and look up three separate rate tables on two agencies’ websites. As Willa Ng at Sidewalk Labs has previously discussed, this lack of understanding of toll costs and associated time savings hinders an agency’s ability to influence people’s travel decisions and reduce congestion. This is especially true for dynamically-priced managed lanes. Often, drivers have no idea what a dynamically-priced roadway might cost until they’ve already committed to a given route.

For example, finding the toll cost from Asbury Park to Midtown Manhattan involves either deciphering three separate rate tables (left) or calling our Tolls API once (right).

To address this, we’re excited to open up our Tolls API plus two demo apps that show how to calculate the cost of a route! This API contains geometry and normalized pricing information for over 75% of the tollways in the Continental US, including some dynamically-tolled express lanes.

It comes with end-points (and built-out examples) that allow you to compute any applicable toll costs between an origin and destination or for a specific route from start to finish. And yes, we studied the road geometries and pricing structure of all 229 tollways in our API, and wrangled the full assortment of factors determining toll costs (e.g., vehicle type, payment type, time of day, occupancy, to name a few) into a standardized format.

The Tolls API is useful to professional drivers too. “Traditionally, the car service industry has operated by giving customers an estimate of the bill up front and then handing them a complete bill after the ride has been taken,” says Joseph Metzinger, CTO of Mozio, an airport transfer search and booking engine. “Mozio uses Coord’s Tolls API to pre-calculate toll costs for customers booking trips within the US, which means our customers see the exact price they are paying up front, no surprises,” he added.

Our mission is to give developers the tools they need to solve today’s transportation problems. Please chat with us on coord.co to ask a question, suggest an idea or report a problem with our platform. We’d also love to hear from you if you’d like us to feature your app that uses our APIs. We hope you enjoy our Curbs and Tolls APIs — we can’t wait to see what you build!

This article was written in collaboration with Corinna Li, Adam Feldman, and Amy Kyleen Lute. Illustrations by Stephen Kennedy.