The UK government and European Commission have identified opening up data as having the potential to unlock billions of pounds into the economy. Given the potential benefits, Reading has made various types of transport-related data available as open data.
Reading Borough Council (RBC) is one of the UK’s leading authorities in the use of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). It collects and stores large amounts of transport network data. It is hoped that by making this data available it will inspire the development of high-quality applications that better inform travellers and enable them to make smarter choices.
Reading is a large town in the south of England with a population of 155 000 (2011), and a larger urban area population of 370 000 (2011). It is strategically located offering good access to London and the UK’s main international airport, Heathrow. While Reading has a highly successful bus network, RBC relies heavily on its ITS to manage its road network and provide information to the travellers.
Reading does not have a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, but it is very active in encouraging sustainable travel. Transport information is already available in various formats. For example, real-time public transport information at bus stops and on buses, and variable message signs displaying real-time incident and parking information. This information is also available through an RBC travel website. Making this information more widely available through web services or applications can however be challenging both technically and financially. RBC has therefore chosen to provide this information as open data to encourage the production of such services commercially.
With ever-increasing pressure on the transport network, the provision of real-time information regarding the status of the transport network has the potential to drive informed travel choices and minimise traveller dissatisfaction. The current Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) system provides such information to bus passengers but provides no information regarding the rest of the transport network. Reading is therefore developing traffic-management systems to provide live information to road users by displaying information on road journey times, congestion and alternative routes. This information can be displayed through the network of variable message signs across Reading.
To encourage a shift in transport modes this information needs to be available to users prior to travelling. To this end a bespoke website was developed providing access to a range of information from Reading’s various ITS. However given the massive increase in mobile device usage and the challenges in servicing the range of platforms available, it was not viable to develop this sufficiently to provide the desired coverage.
RBC has therefore developed its Open Data Services (ODS) to provide an interface where developers can easily access and reuse this static and real time transport data under open license. The ODS links directly to the core ITS and then presents the data in either XML or JSON format to allow web or app developers to easily access and re-use it to develop transport related services.
Reading has taken on board the experiences gained by other European cities in releasing open data. London particularly has provided a clear model for development given its proximity and the large number of transport apps already developed. The data format of the Reading ODS has therefore been aligned with the London ODS to allow London apps to be easily modified to use Reading open data. The service has also been developed as a cloud-based service ensuring its ability to scale to demand in real-time and provide an extremely reliable service to potential developers.
The Reading ODS has recently been launched with an event to encourage the local development community to utilise the available data. This has resulted in several apps starting to be developed, with one app trvlRDG already available. Other apps and services have also been developed using the open data such as the bus app, tvptravel, developed for the Thames Valley Park business park.
The Reading ODS already has 76 registered users and currently publishes data relating to bus travel, car parking, incident and congestion information, roadworks and road journey time information. It is hoped that through engagement with developers and further development of the system to include additional data sets, the ODS will drive the development of high-quality transport apps.
‘Our challenges are engaging with third-parties to use our open data service to create new and innovative mobile apps and websites', said Simon Beasley, RBC’s network manager. 'Good quality apps which make good use of the data will be determined by the market place. A range of apps are required to appeal to different users. This may be a dedicated app to a particular event or apps developed for particular users depending upon their needs.'
He added: ‘This promotes a multi-modal approach to transport enabling travellers to make a more informed choice as to how they move around our city. We have already considered the open data service provided by Transport for London and transferred much of their experience. This has enabled us to feed back our experience to date enabling them to improve their service further.’