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Buses Bill to require bus operators to offer open data for travellers and app developers

Among measures highlighted by the Bus Minister Andrew Jones MP, in the government’s forthcoming Buses Bill is a proposal that all operators will be required to publish open data about local bus services.

This should allow app makers to develop products that passengers can use to plan journeys, and as a result, according to the minister, “give people the confidence to leave the car at home and take the bus instead”.

Other parts of the bill, that the government hopes will become law by early next year, aim to give more powers for councils to run their own bus services and for Oyster-style ticketing to introduced across the country.


Giving people confidence in buses

In a speech given at the UK Bus Summit 2016, at QE11 Centre, Westminster on 11 February 2016, Andrew Jones MP stated that one of the primary measures of the bill will address passengers’ need for better information.

“It is in everyone’s interests for people to know as much as possible about the bus services in their area. So our proposal is that all operators will be required to make data about routes, fares and times open and accessible.”

“It will allow app makers to develop products that passengers can use to plan their journeys, and give people the confidence to leave the car at home and take the bus instead.”

The bill will only to apply to local bus services, and the detail of implementation will be left to local authorities to decide upon in order that the measures work best in each locality.

The bill had not yet been timetabled for introduction to parliament, but Andrew Jones hoped it would receive Royal Assent by early next year.


Bringing in external thinking

According to the government’s Open Policy Making toolkit, open data can benefit policy as:

  • It brings in external thinking through hack days to open eyes of politicians and officials and design better solutions. This has been used at places like MoveMaker and SkillsRoute.
  • It can help policy makers work with voices of citizens and create choice for users. Ofsted’s school dashboard has done this with schools to help parents choose.
  • It creates a different relationship between citizen and state, increasing awareness and sometimes driving engagement.

Not all data is fully open, there are scales of openness as described by the ODI spectrum.

Citymapper is one of the best known applications of open data, that so far in the UK covers London, Birmingham and Manchester. Citymapper takes data from transit authorities and the public sector around the globe to make cities easier to use and ‘reinvent the transport app for the world’s most complicated cities’.


Crowdsourcing innovation

Transport for London (TfL) has committed to syndicating open data to third parties (where technically, commercially and legally viable) and to engaging developers to deliver and innovate using open data.

Over 5,000 developers have registered for its open data, consisting of around 30 feeds and APIs focussed on enabling provision of high-quality travel applications, tools and services. As a result, developers have created “hundreds of applications, reaching millions of active users”.

TfL states that it is committed to open data because, as a public body, its data is publicly owned; that it wishes to extend reach of its data to users “wherever and whenever they wish, in any way they wish”; that open data facilitates the development of technology enterprises, small and medium businesses, generating employment and wealth for London and beyond; and that by having thousands of developers working on designing and building applications, services and tools with its data and APIs, it is effectively crowdsourcing innovation.

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