In the work I do I often need various pieces of geographically-based information concerning public roadways and public transportation. It seems to me (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that this data is particularly decentralized. For example, the National Network of highways and associated map/gis data for determining trucking routes is available from various state governments but not from others although the network itself is subject to federal regulations and funding.

Several cities have public transportation station location available via the Cities section of Data.gov. This data is qualified by data.gov:

Datasets from participating cities are not federal government data and not subject to the Data.gov Data Policy. Each city maintains its own data policy.

In looking for public transit data for Milwaukee I found the MCTA Developer Terms of Use to be notably restrictive:

The Milwaukee County Transit System ("MCTS"), operated by Milwaukee Transport Services ("MTS"), on behalf of Milwaukee County Wisconsin ("County"), hereby grants you ("Licensee") a non-exclusive, limited and revocable license to reproduce, display, perform, redistribute and otherwise use transit route schedules, pricing and other associated data ("Data") subject to the following terms...

My questions are:

  • What level of government determines the terms of use for transportation mapping data?
  • Are there 'minimum requirements' that must be met for the openness of such data?
  • I'm very open to suggestions for how I might break this question up to clarify the scope... Jun 3, 2013 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


The national governing body for geospatial data in the US is the Federal Geographic Data Committee. Data provisioned through the FGDC is part of the overall Data.gov corpus of data. Data provided by federal agencies (such as NASA and NOAA) are provided without charge and without restriction. (Note the data policy that states "Data accessed through Data.gov do not, and should not, include controls over its end use.)

However, data provided by other organizations, such as the Milwaukee city data you referenced, are governed by that entity and may vary. Non-federal data is clearly marked as such on the site in both the metadata and with a banner across the right side of the dataset in the search results.

The new Open Data Policy from the US government explains more about the definition of open licensing.

(Disclaimer: I am the Evangelist for Data.gov)

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