Why doesn't the City of Milan use Netlamps?

A couple of years ago I wrote about Municipalities that open their GIS systems to citizens, pointing out that what's great about Geographic Information Systems (GIS) made with Free Software, or at least based on open file formats and protocols, is the fact that not citizens can use such systems to do much more than reading maps: open GIS allow citizens to create and publish by themselves geographic data of public interest.

When this happens public services improve, at zero or very little cost for the Public Administrations that should have provided them anyway. What matters is that, together with the right software and citizens able to use it and willing to do so, there are also smart public administrators, ready to take advantage of these opportunities to provide better services.

In January 2011 Andrea Trentini wrote an Open Letter to the City of Milan about the existence of a very useful service of this kind: citizens who own adequate smartphones can take pictures of potholes, roadworks or other obstacles to traffic, add to such pictures their geographical coordinates (a process called geotagging) and upload them to the Netlamps website. The website software then displays automatically all those pictures on a map accessible with every Web browser, or downloadable in formats usable with GPS car navigation systems.

Here's my short synthesis of that letter:

Dear Major,
I'm writing on behalf of Motocivismo (a bikers association). The worst cause of accidents is the conditions of the streets. Since 2008 the NetLAMPS system allows citizens to report potholes and other problems online. We also have contacts with the City Department of Public Works, that used our system to map summer roadworks.

Recently we got notice of the Ambrogio System a City project born from the need to have a software-based, real-time management system for all the reports on road conditions coming from citizens and professionals. Ambrogio looks perfect… with the exception of these defects:

  • it has no reference website on which people can check the status of each report
  • the system does NOT allow for reports to be sent via Web/SMS/MMS messages: you must phone a Call Center or personally visit an office
  • we tried several times to call the City Call Center at 020202 to report some road problems, but none of the operators had ever heard of the Ambrogio System
  • the Ambrogio roadmap includes development of a smartphone software client to report road problems
  • the cost of the project isn't explicitly written anywhere

At the same time, our Netlamps system that, as I already pointed out, City Councillor Simini has known for more than one year:

  • is FREE and its data are freely usable and readable online
  • can receive reports via Web, Email, SMS/MMS and adds them automatically to Google Maps without any human intervention

That's why I'm writing. I would like to:

  • offer for FREE to the City the usage of the Netlamps system, whose adoption would save money to the City
  • ask, as a citizen, how much is the budget planned for the Ambrogio System, since I'm curious to know how citizens' money is spent

Who pays, and why?

So, if I (Marco) got it right: in 2008 some citizens organized themselves, without asking anybody else for money or help, to provide, automatically and at the smallest possible cost, a useful service to all citizens (non just in Milan, also in Rome!). Two years later, the City of Milan (which had even used that system) finally sees the same proble, but instead of using and/or improving what was already available, decides to do it again from scratch, just worse: in a way, that is, that would force citizens to waste time to speak with employees paid just to manually collect data, that is to do just what computers can do best? If that’s the case, it really seems to me another case of completely useless procedure that hassle citizens instead of helping them.

For the record, Milan isn't the only great Italian city that uses new technologies and Open Data less than they could. Cartellopoli, a Roman website built with the same spirit of Netlamps to report illegal billboards is still offline instead of being officially approved and used by the City.