City Desk

WMATA Shoots Down Blogger’s Request for Cheap Info

Michael Perkins, the creator of infosnack.org and a contributor to Greater Greater Washington, is a little miffed with Shiva Pant and the folks over at the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority:

"The websites [infosnack.org and greatergreaterwashington.org] do not serve to provide information to the general public, therefore we find that you are not a representative of the news media."

So says WMATA's chief of staff, Shiva Pant, in a letter denying my appeal of their October decision that blogs aren't "news media." I asked for reduced information request fees under the "Member of the News Media" and "Public Interest" sections of WMATA's Public Access to Records Policy, or PARP. The PARP derives from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and according to the letter, "WMATA interprets and applies the PARP consistent with federal FOIA law and practice."

I request information from WMATA to write articles about their activities. Most of my articles come from their press releases, board and RAC meeting reports, and information posted on wmata.com. I also request information from staff contacts. More recently, WMATA staff have initially declined some of my requests, and directed me to use PARP. For example, I recently analyzed bus reliability data. I originally asked the press office, who directed me to the PARP office. This process can take months, and if the information requires extensive searching, can be expensive. Ordinarily, the person requesting the information must pay WMATA's costs.

Perkins based his argument on the Open Government Act of 2007, which established the criteria for using FOIA, "and thus PARP" as "any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience."

Perkins is an informative read, both at Infosnack and GGW, for people interested in transportation issues. But he's also keen as hell, and WMATA is unknowingly setting itself up for a citizen-blogged headache by stonewalling him.

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