“We think there are a lot of people out there who care about street safety,” said Mark Sussman, chief executive of OurStreets. “This is a low-cost way of capturing this data. And civic engagement is a huge part of this.”
Sussman and his partner, Daniel Schep, whom he befriended at a local “transportation techies” meetup group, have reached a data agreement with the District’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles, which they hope will be replicated with other agencies.
Details about the violation — including photo of the vehicle, location, time, description, license plate number, and the person witnessing it — are fed into the complaint system for the department, which oversees taxis as well as ride-hailing firms in the city. Enforcement agents can then tap that data immediately or look for patterns for future action, Sussman said.
In a statement, the department said it notifies Uber, Lyft or other companies of the problem and expects them to initiate an “internal investigation.” City officials are then advised, in writing, of a “proposed resolution” within 15 days. Then the people making the complaint are told the outcome, the department said.
Sussman said there is a “huge chasm” between citation data and crash data collected by cities. Mining that space between can help make streets safer, he said.
“No one is capturing these momentary violations,” Sussman said.
Their goal is to tap the passion of road-safety advocates, broaden out to more casual users, then “integrate directly with municipal stakeholders,” Sussman said. In the District, the company has also had conversations about collaborating with the Department of Public Works, which issues parking citations, and the Department of Transportation, he said.
The Department of Public Works is set to begin a pilot program Jan. 23 that would allow its traffic-enforcement officers to mail tickets to bike lane violators who drive away before a paper ticket can be placed on their windshields. Officers would take a photo of the violating vehicle instead. The department said is not considering a broader use of cameras or other automated systems for parking violations.
“At this time the photo tickets are only for bike lane violations,” the department said in a statement.
OurStreets began its life last year as a Twitter bot that used license plate numbers to publicize unpaid traffic and parking tickets, including flagrant violators owing tens of thousands of dollars.
That effort morphed into an app, called How’s My Driving, released earlier this year, which allowed 2,000 beta testers to report crosswalk, bike lane and other violations.
The OurStreets app, which will be available in January for both Apple and Android phones, is an overhaul meant to make it easier and faster for people to file reports.
While individual violators will be part of the mix with the OurStreets app, a key focus “is going to be using the data in aggregate to make our streets safer,” Sussman said.
The company hopes to sell access to a data “dashboard” that officials can use to inform their enforcement decisions. They also hope to appeal to scooter fleet managers, who can use timely data on their wares being strewn on sidewalks, so they can go deal with any problems and try to prevent irking residents and regulators.
Sussman said the company will also continue with targeted campaigns, such as ones earlier this year where volunteers gathered reports on bus lane violators in the District and bike lane blockers in Arlington and Pittsburgh.
“They have little other recourse,” Sussman said of users. “This is a virtuous cycle. They feel empowered doing this.”