Public Transport Data is awesome! It’s one of the few datasets that people actually use every day when they ask for the next bus or the fastest route. And this data gets even better when it’s freely available and developers can build their own applications with it.
Today a lot of public transport data is available – and a lot of credit for that goes to Google. They pushed many public transport agencies to provide their data in a machine-readable format for their transit program so that users can get directions via public transport on Google Maps. That’s why the transport agencies of all major cities in the US and many other cities around the world have their data available in a format called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). It comprises the geographic locations of stops, routes connecting these stops and the schedule for each route. This data is made available to Google and in most cases also to the public.
Even though, most of the time, the data is not released under an open license, but under a proprietary and sometimes very restrictive license, it is available for free. Developers can take the data and build awesome apps with it: for example I’ve built a web app called Mapnificent that works with lots of different GTFS data feeds (that I get from the fantastic data aggregator gtfs-data-exchange.com).
Unfortunately the situation is very different in Germany. Some German transport agencies provide a transit layer to Google Maps (you can see public transport routes, but cannot use actual routing), but none of them have GTFS feeds available.
I can’t really blame the transport agencies for their unwillingness to cooperate with Google (it’s their choice), but making public transport data freely available would benefit their riders and that’s what they should think about.
I live in Berlin and I love public transport here. There are unofficial public transport apps for Berlin, but because they don’t have access to proper APIs or raw data, these apps have to screen-scrape the local transit agency’s web interface which is neither a stable nor a sustainable solution.
That’s why I am starting a campaign for public transport data in Berlin. If you are from Berlin, please ask the BVG or the VBB for public transport data and spread the word. There are too many apps that need to be built: it can’t wait any longer.
Stefan is a Software Architect, Web Developer and IT-Systems Engineer. He's currently studying for a Masters in Potsdam, and works part-time with OKF Germany, developing exciting apps to change the world a bit at a time.