Subway, open government and education of the sovereign

In February of this year, the Mayor of Buenos Aires announced the 20 public commitments of his new administration (Horacio Rodríguez Larreta won last election and he assumed as Mayor last December). Raging from educational topics to civic involvement, one of those commitments is to reduce subway frequency at rush hour to one train every 3 minutes. This forms part of a governance style were a newly elected government publicly announce their plans for the future, beyond the schedule of the years budget. This way, it can be held accountable for the people on this objectives. Much can be said about this type of commitments, whether government is actually not pushing itself but instead is committing with some lower standard goal that they already know they will achieve or that the priorities behind this commitments are not publicly set, or even discussed in the state legislature. Nevertheless, is a step forward in terms of governance and public accountability of government acts. Fulfillment of the goals or not, it’s already an improvement to offer the chance to the people to elaborate judgement based on evidence and information. ICTs have allowed the publicity of government acts as never before, giving birth to the open government movement.

“Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight” [1]

So, in order for the public to follow this commitments and judge an administration based on results, it is paramount that information may also be publicly available. Buenos Aires City has joined the Open Government Partnership and currently provides with an open data portal with almost 200 data sets. Also, the Mayor’s Office released a website were citizens can follow the commitments’ status and progress. There we can find information about the subway commitment.

The problem with this information is that not enough information is being provided, no source, no original data, scripts, methodological decisions, and other much needed information. But, through the open data portal it is possible to reconstruct some proxy to this using trains dispatchment data. A proper waiting time can not be achieved for every station this way, but it can be computed for the terminal stations. Classic rush hours can be defined between 8 and 10 am for the morning rush hour and between 5 to 7 pm for the evening rush hour. Also, it is necessary to take into account the terminal stations where we measure the waiting time. Buenos Aires City has a radial shape with a clear defined center. Over this underlying functional reality of the urban space, the subway lines were designed with two distintc types: radial lines (A,B,D,E,P), which connect city center with the most peripheral neighborhoods; and circumferential lines (only C and H), which go around city center and intersect the remaining lines perpendicularly. Therefore, while in the circumferential lines both rush hours periods are important (morning and evening) when considering the waiting time for a subway train, in the radial lines the really important one changes accordingly to the time of day. The analysis produces this plot:

All this work is publicly available in my GitHub account for further public discussion and improvement. The results show some minor differences with the commitment website. We use medians instead of means, but both are slightly higher in our analysis, and not yet at the 3 minute goal (especially for lines E and H). Beyond goal achievement, this is an interesting way of conducting government as it promotes a more rational way of discussing agenda, government performance and politics as a whole. For example, line E and H are really far away from the 3 minutes goal, buy with the same data it can be said that those lines also are the ones that transport fewer citizens. Also, it nourishes a long tradition within argentine politics, expressed for many great statesmen in our history (each of them with very different political standpoints) like Juan Bautista Alberdi (one of the writers of our first constitution in 1853) Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (president between 1868 and 1974 and father of the argentine public school system) and Juan Domingo Perón (three times president of Argentina): one of the priorities of government is to educate the ultimate sovereign in a republican democracy, the people.

[1] Lathrop, Daniel; Ruma, Laurel, eds. (February 2010). Open Government: Transparency, Collaboration and Participation in Practice. O’Reilly Media. ISBN 978–0–596–80435–0.