ODI Leeds

Powering the North with better public transport information and data

Transport for the North are working with the Open Data Community to improve public transport data across the region. Information Strategy Manager, Richard Mason, explains how these partnerships are bringing together best practice and innovation to transform how passengers choose to travel across the North.

Here at Transport for the North, we are strong advocates of a good plan and it's no different when we are travelling on public transport. But in the North,finding out how to get from A to B is often not so simple. There is no doubt that thanks to modern technology, like mobile apps and online journey planners, we don't need to just rely on picking up printed routes and timetables from station ticket offices or bus stops. However, despite the advancements, planning journeys across the North of England's vast network of operators, local authority areas and multiple modes is fragmented and often much more complicated than passengers would like it to be.

From a pan-North perspective, the problem is that the current provision of public transport data is often done at a local level by different providers. While much of this is high quality thanks, in large part, to the ongoing efforts of our Local Transport Authority partners - the data is largely then kept privately and published only to certain apps and website. It means there are a myriad of different sources, of varying quality and reliability, which leaves customers with an incomplete picture. It creates confusion and makes public transport less accessible. When you can order an Uber - with the route, estimated arrival time and fare cost clearly displayed - at a few taps of your fingertips, it is easy to understand why public transport might not be people's preferred choice.

Thats why our Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme is working to facilitate better public transport journey information and data for all modes and services across the region. It is the information enhancement the industry has been waiting for. But we can't do it alone.

Transport for the North is working with data driven companies who are already providing public transport journey planners - such as Google, Passenger and Citymapper - to enhance what is available for their users in the North. This work will bring together best practice and innovation from across the sector, delivering joined up travel solutions for the people we care about most - the passengers.

Passenger works closely with transport operators within the North of England region to enable innovative customer experiences through data. We are excited to be at the forefront of TfN's ambitious Integrated and Smart Travel programme, harnessing the power of open data to improve public transport journeys for everyone.
Tom Quay, CEO,Passenger

We have strategically chosen our role as a facilitator rather than a data provider as we recognise the cutting edge, innovative work that is already taking place across the industry - including that of the North's LTAs who have already helped make the region a forerunner in public transport data creation. It's not about starting from scratch. It's more about taking the next step. We believe we can add most value by working collaboratively to unlock, rich open data for the best developers in the business to then provide back to customers via the channels that are becoming increasingly intrinsic to modern life.

TfN's open data initiatives offer an invaluable opportunity for Moovit. As a company with a global reach, we are always looking for this type of localised project to improve our app and help customers travel smarter, wherever they are in the world. We're excited to be collaborating with TfN as they begin to unlock the potential in quality open transit data for the benefit of passengers across North of England.
Samuel Sedpiazza, Director of Partnerships, Moovit

It's a win-win for Transport for the North, our LTA partners and the open data community. Growing app companies like Moovit are eager for more and better-quality data as they push to provide the best service in order to retain and grow their user base. For our LTA partners, it helps amplify their work and reach as many people as possible. Take Google Maps for instance. It is the world's number one smart phone app. Partnering with them allows us to tap in to an audience that we could never reach working in isolation.

Google are committed to innovation and ensuring we always deliver the best service for users of our Google Maps app, wherever they are in the world. That's why we are excited by TfN's Customer Information vision and the potential in enhanced, open public transport journey data across the North of England. Google are looking forward to working with TfN and their partners to see how we can enhance the North's journey planning and information offer for all public transport passengers.
Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist, Google
Better public transport data is key to realising the One North vision. By facilitating connections with a number of developers, TfN has been able to enhance the work we are already doing to improve the information available for customers across the Greater Manchester region. Working collaboratively with developers in this way helps the collective efforts of local transport authorities become greater than the sum of their parts, and we look forward to seeing what else TfN can achieve through this initiative.
Rachel Hutchins, Customer Information Development Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester

Over the coming months we will be looking to formalise these relationships and connect developers with our LTA partners. We will also be sharing the first test data from our currently under-development disruption messaging tool for developers. Once our Open Data Hub is live - currently expected for November 2019 - we will be able to offer a one-stop-shop for fares, disruptions, routes and timetables data; providing developers with a vital source of 'Northern Powerhouse' public transport information.

Unlocking better data in the North is also helping to prepare us for the future. Mobility as a Service (Maas) has been talked about for a while now. But if we are to realise its potential, we will need to provide rich, open data across our transport services. Its what developers are telling us. Local authorities, like Transport for the North, can't just keep looking ahead to the next year or two. We need to be forward thinking and ambitious if we want a resilient, desirable public transport offer.

We like to say that our work is not about smart for smarts sake; we hope that by working with the open data community to improve the availability of public transport information we will be able to transform the overall passenger experience.

TfN have had the foresight to understand the power of unified and quality data. More and more we are looking to shared mobility services as economic and environmentally sound alternatives to private car travel. However, we need easily accessible, accurate data if we are going to successfully navigate public transport systems whether in rural or urban locations. Access to opendata sources are a crucial piece of the data puzzle.
Johan Herrlin, CEO, ITO World
West Yorkshire Combined Authority is committed to improving the sustainable travel offer in this region to encourage more people to use bus and rail as well as to cycle or walk. Part of achieving this aim, and a key element of our five-year Bus Information Strategy, is increasing the quality and variety of data we provide openly to present people with attractive, accurate and personalised information. We believe that by working collaboratively with TfN, LTAs across the north and in turn, with developers, we will be in the best possible position to ensure that the sustainable travel options of public transport and active travel are attractive and competitive options.
Andrew Bradley, Head of Customer Services, West Yorkshire Combined Authority

Ultimately, it's about introducing innovations that remove barriers and attract people on to public transport. This will help unlock and better connect them with jobs and economic opportunities across the North, which in turn should make the region a better place to live and work. Transport for the North is excited to partnering with the Open Data Community to achieve this, and we look forward to sharing more about our information and data initiatives in the coming months.

This blog was originally posted on Transport for the North.