You wait ages for a bus and then…

A Greenline Bus

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.

So does Open GovData allow SME’s to flourish?

Within the first few weeks of joining the Ordnance Survey 10 years or so ago I was shown a prototype map of the New Forest printed on silk, for reasons anyone who has read the “Innovators dilemma” will understand it was never turning into a product, and I still have  the prototype in a drawer at home.

So when my old friend from the OS David Overton  launched SplashMaps via Kickstarter last month I immediately supported the project.

I supported the project not just because I think the product is a great idea, but that is is a real example of Open Government Data supporting small business innovation.  As David points out, he was willing to license commercial data from the OS, but the usual licensing maze in Southampton actually made using the newly available OS Open Data and OpenStreetMap data a better alternative.

If you believe in the principle of open government data, support it with your bank account and help SplashMaps meet it’s target.

Written and submitted from the Hilton Hotel, Vienna  (48.206N, 16.383E)

The new opengov data poster child ?

You may not like the symbology used in this map.. but you can’t deny that the “Interactive map of England’s green belt” published by the Telegraph Newspaper yesterday is an another important milestone in the opening up of Government Geodata.

It is important for a number of reasons..

Firstly it liberates data that was previously difficult/expensive to obtain from the Department for Communities and Local Government both displaying it on a Google Map, but also making it available for download  as a shape file for use by others – Kudos !

Secondly and rather parochial I accept, it is an example of data that was based on Ordnance Survey mapping published on the web.. not exactly case law but a good precedent supporting the view that a feature must exist as an object in the original OS data for it to be derived !

Thirdly and I would argue of most importance is that this data is really useful.. it is timely as it helps to inform the current debate around the planning system, and it is of real interest to citizens who can easily view areas protected by the planning system close to their homes !

Seems that there is healthy competition in data journalism !

Written and submitted from the Google London Offices  (51.516N, 0.127W)