You wait ages for a bus and then…

So the saying goes, you wait ages for a bus and then an Open Data project comes along ..

I was asked to speak at the launch event of the UK Dept. of Transport Bus Open Data Digital Services (BODDS) yesterday which aims to provide open data for England complex network of buses outside of London.

As a Londoner I recognise that I am very fortunate having up to the minute information about Transport of London (TFL) Buses available to me on my mobile phone using many popular apps including of course Google Maps. TFL after a lot of pressure developed an API to their data feeds in 2015, and I can now sit of my sofa at home and make sure the express bus to the airport is on time and leave just in time to make it to my local stop.

For most of the country this is not the case, the fragmented nature of bus operations in the rest of England even in large cities made the creation and access to open data about buses overly complex.

The initiative launched yesterday is very important because in providers not only a national platform to share bus information but also tools to allow operators to upload data about their operations including initially schedules but also in due course ticketing and the real time location of individual buses.

Leveling up ?

The opportunity here of course is to “level up” access to information and this is an important step, although I would perhaps have preferred the service to make use of more developer friendly formats GTFS rather than those better suited to Operators, TransXChange and NeTEx. There is a difference between data used in running a Bus network and the information you might wish to publish for journey planning and downstream use.

The role of the developer community will be vital, of course the major information platform companies will in due course consume the data and make it available to their customers but there is a opportunity for a ecosystem of smaller developers to build solutions in the form of apps that link public transport to other local services in a much more integrated way.
Imagine booking a appointment to your local hospital with the appropriate bus journey information to get you from your home to the hospital included along with a ticket delivered to your app.

There is a great deal of talk about Mobility as a Service (Maas) linking different modes of transport together to provide a seamless experience for passengers, convenience is all important and if as the Government hopes people will make fewer private car journeys , alternative solutions need to be as slick as hiring an Uber.

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