Why Los Angeles decided to open source its future

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation needed a way to improve traffic, so it was opened.

  Traffic jam in Los Angeles

Image: egdigital, Getty Images / iStockphoto

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst should be proud. More than a decade ago, Whitehurst lamented the waste inherent in traditional business IT, where each organization rolled its own systems and shared little. Now, there is a growing trend towards open source, with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (DOT) taking the lead in building the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) to manage the influx of bicycles and electronic scooters without a dock. The project made sense for a city full of horrendous traffic, but it is the MDS open source that makes it powerful, with more than 80 cities around the world now embracing it.

To understand the motivations and future of MDS and open source business, I spoke with Jascha Franklin-Hodge, until recently the Boston information director and now executive director of the Open Mobility Foundation.

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A history of LA

In July, LA became Founding member of the Open Mobility Foundation, led by OASIS, which has the great mission of helping cities to host alternative forms of transport while managing their integration into transport infrastructure for the good and safety of the general public. LA DOT is also contributing its work in MDS to the Open Mobility Foundation as a means to promulgate work to other cities, not to mention technology companies and electronic scooter suppliers.

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The Open Mobility Foundation is now operating with 15 major municipalities in the US. UU., In addition to Bogotá, Colombia. Five private companies have memberships representing technology companies such as Microsoft, in addition to the Bird and Spin scooter companies. OMF is free for cities that want to join.

This is a great response to Whitehurst's concern a long time ago:

The vast majority of software written today is written in companies and not for resale. And the vast majority of that is never really used. The waste of IT software development is extraordinary … Ultimately, for open source to provide value to all our customers worldwide, we need our customers not only to be users of open source products, but also really participate in open source and participate in the development community.

Now fast forward to today, where Los Angeles (and Santa Monica) were trying to discover how to incorporate e-scooters and bicycles into their infrastructure as a way to dominate traffic jam. Speaking to Franklin-Hodge, he emphasized that "While, on the one hand, this alternative form of clean transportation was welcome, it created a new challenge in terms of infrastructure management and maintenance of street and sidewalk safety."

The question is how open source would help solve the problem.

Open city sourcing

When asked about the motivation behind the open sourcing MDS, Franklin-Hodge was quick to point out that "LA wanted her work to grow beyond LA and, potentially, others forms of transport, and benefit other municipalities that face similar problems. " In other words, he continued: "From the beginning, it was believed that a broader collaboration would offer a better result for everyone, including cities and mobility companies themselves."

Often, open source lands with a thud, either due to disinterest in the problem the code intends to solve or bad documentation or other reasons (some of which Gordon Haff has described). In the case of MDS and LA, Franklin-Hodge indicated that "there was a very reasonable expectation due to contact with some other municipalities," which gave the city the confidence that others would collaborate. And they have done it. In his words, "it has expanded much faster and more than expected, even in other parts of the world, which has been surprising and inspiring to see."

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A little discussed aspect of open source is how difficult it can be to relax control and allow others take part. Everything is peace, love and Linux until someone sends an extraction request that the original managers do not like. Google is a great example of how to do this well with Kubernetes, but many other projects have failed. LA DOT decided to move the project to the Open Mobility Foundation as a way to ensure a true community approach to continuous development. Franklin-Hodge said:

As work progressed and collaboration expanded, it became increasingly obvious that a coalition of municipalities working together would be more efficient in moving forward. That is what led to the formation of the Open Mobility Foundation and our partnership with OASIS, a leader in the open source industry and software standards. The OMF governs the platform called Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which consists of a set of APIs that create standard communications between cities and private companies to improve their operations. The APIs allow cities to collect data that can inform real-time traffic management and public policy decisions to improve security, equity and quality of life. More than 50 cities in the United States, and dozens around the world, already use MDS to manage micro mobility services.

So, is this a sign of good governance (open source) to come? Franklin-Hodge believes it this way: "Cities are increasingly seeing the value of open source as a way to save money, avoid blocking vendors and gain access to the most capable, proven and widely supported technological solutions. Most cities are not seeking to eliminate relations with suppliers, but rather to ensure that they obtain the best value for the money of taxpayers who spend on technology. " Part of that value lies in providing an open base for MDS to thrive and expand, perhaps even in areas such as autonomous vehicles and drones.

Good governance, in fact.

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