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How an open data commitment is delivering rewards for London transport.

Posted on Jun 7, 2016

The WebCat  a unique TfL tool designed primarily for developers and town planners, giving them information on transport connectivity when deciding what to build where."..we will continue to work in partnership with developers to go even further..."

The benefits of Transport for London (TfL)'s commitment to making the information it holds openly available are now becoming apparent to both agency and passenger. TfL's work in syndicating open data to third parties (where technically, commercially and legally viable) and engaging with developers to deliver and innovate has seen over 5,000 developers register for access. These developers have created a host of new travel applications, tools and services, reaching millions of active users across the UK capital. And new research has found that this openness has put London streets ahead of its global counterparts when it comes to capitalising on the potential of data.

The Future Cities Foundation’s Vital Cities: Transport Systems Scorecard reveals that London sets the gold standard for successful data sharing. The city’s open data policy delivers significant benefits to residents and tourists, TfL estimates that the annual value of the time its open data and apps like CityMapper save customers could amount to £116 million. The policy has also nurtured a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism – there are now more than 460 apps powered by TfL data and 8,200 developers have registered to access the data

The Scorecard analysed the transport networks of 12 cities around the world on indicators ranging from breathability to the density of cycle and pedestrian networks to the use of data and apps. The cities were grouped into four categories: Global Cities (Hong Kong, London, New York), Mega Cities (Beijing, Mumbai, São Paulo), Green Cities (Copenhagen, Singapore, Vancouver), and Car Cities (Dubai, Houston, Kuala Lumpur).

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The availability of free live transit feeds across all transport modes in London scored the city top marks for facilitating the creation of multi-modal apps; elsewhere in the world the scores were lower. Car Cities in particular were marked down for the lack of availability of data. Dubai only recently drafted an open data law that aims to increase sharing of data between government departments and with the private sector, and Kuala Lumpur has failed to provide an open live transit data system to its citizens and potential developers altogether – despite appearing to have an open data policy.

Vernon Everitt, Managing Director of Customers, Communication and Technology at TfL, said: “Making our data freely and openly available has delivered major benefits to our customers and road users through a whole range of new products and services. With more live feeds planned to launch later this year, we will continue to work in partnership with developers to go even further, including looking at more predictive information products.”

Why are TfL committing to open data?

  • Public data - As a public body, our data is publically owned
  • Reach - Our goal is to ensure any person needing travel information about London can get it wherever and whenever they wish, in any way they wish
  • Economic benefit - Open data facilitates the development of technology enterprises, small and medium businesses, generating employment and wealth for London and beyond
  • Innovation - By having thousands of developers working on designing and building applications, services and tools with our data and APIs, we are effectively crowdsourcing innovation

Some examples of Apps created via the Open Data Programme for TfL. Although London’s open data policy is considered to be one of the best in the world, it is Singapore that’s leading the charge – albeit marginally – when it comes to converting data into the most user-friendly and informative travel apps. The research found that there is still room for developers in London and elsewhere in the world to improve the services they offer by taking their lead from Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, which provides its own web- and mobile-based route-planning tool and app. The app includes additional features not yet available in London, such as information about standing and seating room on public transport, as well as disabled access and the availability of parking spaces close to the passenger’s chosen destination.

Ken Shuttleworth, Chairman of the Future Spaces Foundation ( @FutureSpaces ) said: “We believe that connected cities – those with well-networked, efficient and sustainable transport systems – enhance the ability of people and enterprises to interact, exchange and innovate. Ultimately, our goal is to make cities places in which people can thrive. Technology and data have offered us a real opportunity to do this, and it’s critical that we embrace these benefits. Our research shows that many cities are falling at the first hurdle – failing to fully implement a policy that allows for the free flow of data between businesses and individuals. This is the first step towards creating a truly vital city, which is why we are encouraging cities all over the world to place more of an emphasis on improving these connections.”

In light of the research, the Foundation is calling on governments all over the world to implement effective open data policies that encourage everyone – from web and app developers to residents and tourists – to make use of the wealth of data available. The Foundation believes that making data more readily available improves travel experiences for everyone, whether they are a commuter, a tourist or a resident exploring everything a city has to offer. Open data policies can also foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism, creating jobs and driving growth.

For more on TfL's work in this area, check out their dedicated page

A fan of transport inovation? Then you'll love SmartTransit which takes place in New York in October 2016. Find out more about the show here.


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Luke Upton
Luke Upton
Luke has edited this site since its launch and previously worked for b2b media companies across industries including energy, advertising and sport. His role includes writing, editing and commissioning...read more
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