City of Hamilton project loosens grip on releasing info to public
Hamiltonians should have easier access to city information as early as this fall under a new and long-awaited open data pilot project.
The city will release often-requested information such as Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) data and splash pad locations under the open and accessible data pilot project. It's information that was previously only accessible through Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests, or by waiting for long periods for the city to assemble it in a usable form.
City staff will come back to councillors in September with a follow-up report regarding information to release. The project has been in the works for two years.
"It's probably taken longer than we would have liked," said city spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos following a presentation to the audit, finance and administration committee Tuesday.
But the process has involved consulting with numerous community members to get "a good end product."
Releasing data benefits taxpayers in a number of ways, said Joey Coleman, a project lead with Open Hamilton and a member of a federal advisory committee on open data.
For local developers, he said, it means the ability to build useful apps allowing Hamiltonians to locate pools, bike lanes and other city services. Other possibilities include traffic data, finance data and voting records.
One of the most popular requests is access to HSR data so people can know when their bus is coming, he said.
"What we're hearing loud and clear at Open Data Hamilton is HSR."
The city started work on the project in September 2011 and has moved very slowly since then, Coleman said.
"It's long overdue. It's been a very frustrating process."
Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek also lamented how long it's taken for the project to come to fruition.
"Access by design is not a complicated matter," he said. "We're either going to be releasing information to the public freely and holding back what we can't release, or we're not. It stuns me that we've been talking about this since 2011 and it still hasn't happened."
"People are still filing FOI requests for virtually everything they want out of the city."
City staff will report back twice a year during the 18-month pilot project. But becoming more accessible will take more than a policy, Coleman said. The city needs to hire staff to do it.
"We have a lot more to do," he said. "We have a policy statement that says we want to get there. It's one thing to say you're going to lose weight. It's another to diet and exercise. And that's what we need to do. The work."