ODI Leeds

Interview with TfN Data & Information Expert

Transport for the North's Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme is set to deliver account-based ticketing with contactless capped payments on public transport journeys across the North by 2020. As one of Open Transport Norths founding partners, we chatted to their Information Strategy Manager, Richard Mason,about the project and TfNs plans to transform transport data in the North.

Hi Richard. Tell us more about Transport for the North and your role?

Transport for the North (TfN) is England's first sub-national transport body. We have been tasked with planning transport infrastructure investment to drive the Norths economic growth over the next 30 years.

Working on Phase 2 of the IST programme - 'Customer information, collaboration and innovation' - I oversee how our smart ticketing initiatives can benefit from, and contribute to, the latest trends and developments in open data. Its an exciting project and I'm really proud to be part of a team transforming the way people use public transport.

I have worked in transport and customer information for over 15 years, and I think our work at TfN is aiming to finally fill a data gap that has been an issue in the industry for years. That's largely because the job has been too big for any individual local transport authority to do alone. Our partnership with all the Norths LTAs is enabling us to deliver something together that is more than the sum of our individual parts.

Why have TFN partnered with OpenTransport North?

Open Transport North is the transport-dedicated spin-off from ODI Leeds. It was created to meet the demand for open innovationin the transport sector, particularly in the North. We chose to be a founding partner of Open Transport North because TfN sees itself as a facilitator - rather than provider of better data.

This approach requires us to sustain relationships with the open data community; we want to enable, nurture and, challenge them to do more. But as a relatively new organisation ourselves, we still need some outside experience and expertise.

TfN is also a sponsor of ODI Leeds, which has opened doors and helped us connect better with data users. Already the partnership has enabled us to meet with big international companies like Google, Moovit and City Mapper. It is helping take the project the next level.

What's the customer need for the Integrated and Smart Travel programme?

The programme is all about making it easier for passengers to find out about and pay for transport around the North. The experience of getting from point A to B should be seamless regardless of operator or mode. But, as we know, that is currently not always the case. Customers are demanding we do better.

Look at Oysters move to contactless over recent years. The phenomenal customer take-up I think last time I checked the stats it was something like 2.5million contactless journeys are made across TfLs services every day - shows the size of the prize if TfN can get this right.

Ultimately, it's not smart for smarts sake; it's about introducing innovations that remove barriers and attract people on to public transport. This will help unlock and better connect them with job and economic opportunities across the North, which in turn should make the region a better place to live and work.

London have had the Oyster card for years. Why is this so hard to deliver in the North?

A number of reasons make it more complex but primarily, Oyster is run by one operator, Transport for London (TfL), who own the rail and bus networks. The North is much more complicated.

Across the regions public transport network, TfN have to consider the 19 different local transport authorities, over 400 private bus operators, three train companies - as well as several cross regional services - multiple tramway and light rail schemes and even unique, localised operations such as the Mersey Ferry. We need to collaborate.

Undoubtedly, closing the gap between North and South is fundamental to TfNs work but we also cant forget that technology and passenger expectations are always changing. We should be aiming to be at the forefront, not just trying to play catch-up.

The Norths already made great progress with contactless payments and there are a number of major smart travel schemes in operation across the City Regions. But smart is still not mainstream - we've done some research with Ipsos MORI that shows 65% of rail commuters in the North are still using a paper ticket purchased at the booking office or from a ticket machine. That's a big market for us to switch over to smart travel.

Sounds great, but what role does transport data play in all this?

Data and customer information is key. Phase 2 of the programme is dedicated to improving the Norths transport data infrastructure. We're looking at standardising fares and disruption messaging information and collating it all in an 'Open Data Hub.' Once there, we want the open data community, such as app developers and journey planner providers, to access and deliver it to passengers in new innovative ways.

We've already begun engaging with app developers and other open data users, and it's fair to say there's growing excitement and energy around our work. TfN currently have a limited remit in terms of the data sets included in the hub, but we are certainly open to talking about what other transport data could be included in the future. For now, we still see it as the information enhancement the industry has been waiting for; bringing the data experience enjoyed by rail passengers to bus and other modes of public transport.

Hang on, aren't the Department for Transport already working on a plan to make Fares data openly available?

Yes. Last year, DfTs Bus Open Data programme consulted on its proposal to make the provision of bus fare data in an open way compulsory. While the industry eagerly awaits the outcome of that, we are already cracking on with our plans to revolutionise the provision of fares information in the North.

TfN hopes to set the industry standard and we are actually developing a Fares Data Build Tool in partnership with both the DfT and Traveline. It will be delivered first in the North, with potential to scale it nationally.

Importantly,TfNs scope is more than just bus. Fares data needs to be simple and transparent across all modes of public transport - tram, light rail, ferry and bus.

Our proposed tool will standardise all public transport data into the NeTEx format - the European technical standard for exchanging public transport information. The tool will then work in tandem with our Open Data Hub to make the information deliverable to passengers. In layman's terms, this will help make multi-operator fares information more easily shareable, accessible and understandable.

For more information about Transport for the Norths Integrated and Smart Travel programme, you can visit their website.