The UK’s bus passengers should soon be able to know where every bus in the country is, according to Department of Transport (DfT) plans to launch a “Bus Open Data Service”; a project that aims to provide passengers, especially in rural locations, with digital journey-planning products and real-time bus location data.
With the 2017 Bus Services Act, the government has obliged bus operators to make data about times, fares and bus locations available to local authorities in order to create accurate timetables and bus location arrival times for users.
Starting this year, that information on routes and timetables will be more broadly shared with passengers and application developers who will either add the data to existing applications or use it to create new digital products.
DfT states this data will be followed, in 2021, by real-time bus location and fares data. The “Bus Open Data Service” platform has a budget of £4 million.
David Beardmore, the commercial director of the Open Data Institute said in a TfL release this week that the project “marks the start of a digital transformation for the delivery of bus services across England and will benefit both the tech industry who will use the data to innovate and develop new products and services, but fundamentally consumers are the ultimate winners; armed with better information they can plan their journeys more easily and make better choices about tickets.”
Real-time Bus Location Data
Real-time location data from buses relies on automatic vehicle location (AVL) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Using these systems, location and status data of a bus in transit is sent to a back office system which collates it with additional information, such as route and timetable data in order to accurately estimate arrival times.
Before the 2017 Bus Services Act there was no statutory requirement for bus operators to install vehicle location technology. After offering grants for installation, uptake has been swift; the DfT says that 97 percent of buses in England now have AVL equipment installed.
As technology pushes forward; the way in which passengers access this data is constantly evolving, it may come in the form of dynamic signs located at bus stops or it may be through personal smart devices running third party journey planner applications. The government believes that opening up this real-time data will foster innovation in journey planning technology development.
One of the issues in running a real-time information (RTI) system is there is significant cost for local authorities as the back office system setup and maintenance is costly.
In a consultation report the Government notes that: “Currently approximately forty local transport authorities offer such a service – an often cited barrier to provision are the setup and maintenance costs for the required back office systems however next generation ticket machines are providing new methods for the creation of real time information and helping to bring down costs.”