Can a hackathon make it easier to get around town?


Thirty-plus coders and a handful of local transportation agencies say, yes, it can.

It’s the third year SEPTA is asking local hackers to make the transit system easier to deal with. But this year is the first where a handful of other agencies are also pitching in their data.

“Which is why the name of the event has been changed from Apps for SEPTA to Apps for Philly Transit,” said Michael Zaleski, director of emerging and specialty technologies at SEPTA, and an organizer of this weekend’s hackathon.

Partner agencies include the Philadelphia International Airport, the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia and even the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

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“The idea is to release different data sets from different agencies so that we can mash them up and see what kind of useful products we can get out of them,” said Zaleski.

Picture an app that can tell you if it’s quicker to drive and get parking at the airport … or just take the train.

That example comes courtesy of the city’s chief data officer, Mark Headd. With multiple partners onboard, he says, questions like that can be answered.

“Agencies that have data that is impactful and that touches people’s lives — like transit and travel and transportation data does — are realizing that they have partners out in the community that will help them do interesting and valuable things with this data,” said Headd.

Transit apps have long been in high demand. A few created at or around previous SEPTA hackathons are in use today.

Biking apps may be the next frontier, Headd says, as more Philadelphians embrace pedalling to work.

“It’s really all about choices,” he said.

The hackathon kicks off Friday evening at Kensington makerspace 3rd Ward Philly. You can get more information or submit app ideas at the Apps for Philly Transit website.

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