The Department for Transport (DfT) has created a prototype bus open data service, tested by transport authorities and operators that could eventually provide national fare and journey times.
Government officials intend to create a service that will eventually lead to new apps, products and services for passengers. The aim is to make the necessary regulations during Summer 2019, with a view to rolling out initial services in stages by 2021 and 2023.
The news follows a consultation on government open data plans building on the 2017 Bus Services Act, which gives the transport secretary the power to make regulations requiring operators to provide open data.
The Government's consultation response states the 'digital service is currently in prototype and has been tested with local authorities, bus operators and application developers across England'.
The Government plans to create 'a Network Timetable Exchange (NeTEx) followed by a two-part implementation stage focussing initially on basic fares and tickets (also known as high demand fares and tickets), which would be required by the beginning of 2021'.
This would be followed later by a requirement for bus operators 'to provide complex fares and ticket data by the start of 2023'.
While the Bus Services Act section 18 makes provision for open data, 'for the purpose of facilitating travel by disabled persons', the DfT's consultation response rules out including key accessibility information on bus stops, stations and vehicles in the first stage.
It was considered 'too great an implementation burden for bus operators and so have opted to not include accessibility data in the requirements at this time'.
Protocols and hosting
The DfT will pursue a distributed data model - a majority of respondents supported - but to address concerns about smaller operators ability to host their own data, the Department has pledged to 'offer some hosting'.
A Distributed Data Model is one that enables the storage of data across multiple computers which improves performance at end-user worksites by allowing transactions to be processed on many machines, instead of being limited to one.
Bus operators will be required to provide routes and timetable data in the TransXchange format (the current industry standard for publishing route and timetable data).
However a number of issues require 'ironing out' before the bus open data regulations come into effect, DfT officials acknowledged.
'It is our intention to create a specific TransXchange profile for the Bus Open Data digital service which will specify mandatory and non-mandatory fields to ensure greater consistency across TransXchange files created by bus operators and local transport authorities.'
Real-time (but not in time)
The DfT has dropped ambitions to have real-time journey planning and instead in the first phase of the platform will require bus operators to provide Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) data only.
This would provide the opportunities for the market to 'innovate and create applications that could produce Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) using AVL and timetable information whilst avoiding placing a disproportionate burden on either bus operators or local transport authorities'.
As part of a Post Implementation Review (PIR) in 2023/24, the DfT will consider whether it needs to change its approach to ensure passengers across England have access to Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) regardless of where they live, work or travel.
Fares and ticketing:
The (Network-Timetable Exchange data standard) NeTEx profile for fares and tickets data, for the bus industry 'will be developed in full by mid-2019 and implementation of the profile and requirements to publish fares and tickets data will be phased in, starting with basic fares data from early 2021' the DfT states.
This will then progress to complex fares 'from early 2023 to give bus operators time to upgrade their systems and upskill their staff'.
Officials also confirmed that Transport for the North and Traveline will collaborate with government 'to deliver a fare data build tool for the industry enabling bus operators to quickly and easily create fares data files, in the required NeTEx standard, at low or no cost to the industry'.
£4m for rural revolution
Buses minister Nusrat Ghani has announced £4m for the digital platform to provide location information about bus services – giving greater certainty to rural passengers about when their bus will arrive.
The platform enables app developers to use information from GPS trackers, which are already fitted to 97% of buses. This will provide a service which is available in some major cities. It will give people in other areas across the country, including rural and remote areas, the ability to plan journeys more easily.