Shaking up England’s bus data

18 Aug 2016 by Jonathan Raper


The new Bus Services Bill which is going through the House of Lords at the moment has the potential to really shake up the transport data ecosystem in England.

Currently 60% of all public transport journeys in England are by bus. That amounts to 4.65bn journeys per year. Buses are good for the economy (getting people to work), environment (less cars, better air quality). This Bill aims to increase the number of journeys taken by bus and improve the quality of these journeys for passengers. Something which is very in favour of!

This is where data comes in. One of the ways to improve England’s bus services is to make sure that passengers have accurate data about bus services via their phones, tablets and laptops. Passengers want to know the route a bus will take, the timetable it should run to, the cost of the fare, and if there is any current delay to the service (the real-time data about a particular bus).

In some parts of the country this kind of transport data is widely, openly available and in other parts it is patchy, sometimes non-existent. The reason for this variation is that the 4.65bn annual bus journeys taken annually in England are provided by over a thousand different bus operators. That’s a lot of different operators! And a lot of data from multiple sources. bustimes

Where the data is easily available and open, it can be integrated into apps such as Citymapper, TFL journey planner, – companies who are all current or former clients of TransportAPI.

Some data is currently only published in PDF. This is particularly a problem for bus fares. For example to look up bus fares in parts of Oxfordshire and Bournemouth you must seek out the PDF download on the operator websites. This is very hard to integrate into apps and websites. Using bus apps in these areas won’t return you all the detail you’d desire to plan your journey.

Some data is currently difficult to work with. At we spend a lot of time aggregating, curating and enhancing all of the available bus data from operators. For example we take timetable data, which is free and open but a bulky tangled mass of data. We process and extensively clean it up in order to provide simple bite-sized JSON formatted data (exemplar data on the Future Cities Catapult’s Enterprise instance of TransportAPI). We then push out this data via a RESTful API so it can be easily integrated into apps and websites like Busguru and also helps clients like First Group, one of the UK’s biggest bus operators, make their data more widely available. This not only helps app developers build better apps, it also helps the general public get around and increases First Group’s performance, and ultimately, revenues.

FirstbusBut where operators like First Group and Arriva are (with help from making data available, not all operators do. That’s because there isn’t (yet) an incentive (or obligation) for them to focus on taking the necessary technical steps. The new Bus Services Bill, sponsored by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, promises to change this. It promises to mandate the release of real-time data as open data, regularise and systematise the release of timetables, and potentially even produce a national dataset for bus fares.

And that’s why we’re excited about The Bus Services Bill. The more bus data that’s out in the public domain the better informed passengers will be and the more buses will be used!

The Bill is currently at the Committee stage in the House of Lords. With any luck it will be passed in 2017.