When is my bus?

Sometimes you find some data whose lack of freedom is totally mysterious from a commercial point of view.

At mySociety, we recently released made some travel time maps which help you work out where you should live that would have the quickest commute to your place work. Interactive flash sliders to balance this delicate equation against house prices would definitely be a simple, tangible benefit for many in the UK.

But for some reason, public transport data is closed. So we can’t make this available for anyone, whatever the postcode of their place of work.

The data itself is totally locked up. Tim Howgego gives a detailed reckoning of the status of timetable data for everything from local buses to long distance trains.
Both TransportDirect and Transport for London have beautifully integrated together all forms of public transport to help individuals find individual routes from A to B. They are, however, impenetrable consortiums with impossibly hard to negotiate, non-existent licensing terms, even if you have the cash.

Meanwhile, Google are negotiating access to the transit information for their own website, so that they can make money from adverts relating to it. But the data itself stays closed (Tim Howgego again). Tim’s article gives lots of details about this.

The mystery is why the public transport companies and local authorities don’t make the data free. They would not only enable new innovative services like the mySociety house prices / where to live one, but also make more money as more people would know when and how to use their buses and trains.

The answer? It’s totally anodyne. “Local public transport has little motivation to sell itself. And when it does, the decision making process is cluttered by many organisations with slightly different aims.” (Tim Howgego again).

How do we fix that!

I’ll be talking more about the travel time maps, and mySociety’s upcoming Freedom of Information site, at the next Cambridge Open Knowledge Meetup on Wednesday 13th Feburary. Rufus will be talking about CKAN and open knowledge packages, and Jim giving an update on open access in Chemistry. Remember if you’re in London, Cambridge is just 45 minutes from Kings Cross, nearer than some parts of London.

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