Bus Open Data: A data revolution but an accessibility fail

 

Ministers are set to complete the legal groundwork for the Bus Open Data Service (BODS), paving the way for new powers by the end of the year to ensure operators disclose data on fares, timetables and locations.

The regulations would provide new legislation to require bus operators of local bus services across England, but outside London, to openly publish data electronically about their services through legally mandated data standards.

The move is designed to boost passenger numbers and support travel app development and follows Transport for London's successful open data strategy and Transport for the West Midlands's investment in providing a single data source for apps and journey planners across the region.

In London it is estimated that Citymapper and the Bus Times app had together delivered economic benefits of between £90m and £130m a year from travel time savings, additional journeys and reduced congestion, transport minister Baroness Vere said.

Department for Transport (DfT) officials said: 'While there will be initial costs for bus operators, better information for passengers is assumed to lead to increased bus patronage. This will lead to greater profits for bus operators in the region of £0.8m-£5m per year across the industry.'  

”Local
Lord Holmes

A draft statutory instrument - the Public Service Vehicles (Open Data) (England) Regulations 2020 – went through an early approval in the Lords last week. However peers raised concerns that this data ‘revolution’ does not provide any guarantees on accessibility information.

As Transport Network reported last year, the DfT has ruled out including key accessibility information on bus stops, stations and vehicles despite the Bus Services Act making specific provision for open data, 'for the purpose of facilitating travel by disabled persons'.

Accessibility campaigner Lord Holmes questioned the Government at the time over the omission and was told by Baroness Vere that ‘many operators would need to upgrade their systems in order to openly publish accessibility information, and many operators are not currently in a position to do so.’

When questioned by peers last week, the minister said the DfT had supported operators in other areas but gave no indication any work had been done on accessibility information.

‘The team in the DfT has created a timetable data creation tool that allows operators to submit data in a standardised fashion and have done exactly the same with fares too. We have offered to host data for small bus operators,’ she said.

Lord Holmes argued that accessibility information would ‘enable those who might otherwise be uncertain or unable to use the buses through not having that information’.

He stressed that as well as this potential market there is ‘the obvious question of inclusion and also it could lead to increasing innovation on some of the apps and technology solutions to support enable and empower disabled people’.

Baroness Vere declined to give any commitment to accessibility data but said: ‘I would like to reassure him that we are considering how to provide accessibility data for vehicles and bus stops.’

The rules will be enforced by the DVSA, which will conduct checks to make sure operators have published the required data sets.

Transport minister Baroness Vere told peers the move was ‘absolutely essential if we are to encourage the travelling public to use their local bus services and make the switch to public transport’.

‘The regulations will be commenced in a phased manner: with timetables and stop data requirements being enforceable from 31 December 2020, basic fares and location data enforceable from 7 January 2021 and complex fares will be enforceable from 7 January 2023. Breaches of the requirements by operators can be enforced under existing provisions under the Transport Act 2000.’

This is a devolved policy area but Scotland and Wales are currently preparing similar legalisation and the Department for Transport is in talks with the devolved administrations to make sure the data will be interoperable.

 

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