Could open source software save New York City's bike share program?

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Fail faster

A bike share program that was supposed to be launched last summer in New York City has come to a halt due to software related issues. I can't help but think that if the software was open source, these problems would have been easily resolved, eliminating worrisome delays.

This past August, Mayor Bloomburg said "The software doesn't work," responding to questions about why the bike-share program is on hold. Now, according to a post in the New York Times, flooding and damage from Hurricane Sandy has caused further setbacks.

According the PBSC Urban Solutions website, the software for the program is proprietary or closed source. If the source code were available, the city, a hired vendor, or citizens could have contributed solutions and expertise to the needs of the software project—proving the value for open source software. 

The Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation weighed in on the situation. 

Ms. Sadik-Khan said in August that the city, which became aware of the software issues last spring, did not initially anticipate that the operating code would need to be written "from scratch."

All this sounds like a giant #FAIL to me. If the vendor had chose open source, they could haved failed faster and the bike share program might have launched on time. They also could have adopted open source software for bike sharing that already exists, like Shareabouts.

What do you think? If the operating code for the bike share program was open source, would we even be talking about this issue? Why should the vendor backing the program take an open source approach?

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003.


"Why should the vendor backing the program take an open source approach?"

Because public funds used to create software should not be used to create private software.

An open-source ERP system like Adempiere or Openbravo could easily handly this. Basically it's just rental and maintenance of a fixed asset (bikes). Not rocket science.

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