A question we’ve been asked many times when gathering feedback on our new website is when we’ll develop smartphone apps for travel tools such as Journey Planner, maps, bus and Tube arrivals and service status.
What many people don’t realise is that, while we don’t provide a smartphone app ourselves, we provide all the data that powers the 200 or so apps which are already available.
We open up access to Journey Planner, live Tube status, bus arrivals, route geometry, station and stop locations and much more under our ‘open data’ approach, which means we don’t charge anything for its use and we place as few restrictions as possible on developers who wish to use it.
Over the past few years there have been over 5,000 registered developers working on our data, creating hundreds of smartphone apps used by millions of customers.
Why open data?
• It’s public data – as a public body, our data is publically owned.
• To extend reach – ensuring as many people as possible have the widest possible access to travel information.
• For best use of the transport network – enabling choice of the most effective journeys.
• Economic benefit – the small companies who make apps with our data generate highly skilled jobs and wealth.
• Innovation – thousands of developers work on designing and building apps with our data, meaning great innovation emerges.
A Deloitte study for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills estimates the annual value of time saved through our open data at up to £58m, this on an annual spend of less than £1m.
Why do a website then?
We know that many people like to come to the source of information, rather than deal with a third party. We also want to offer a service which can be accessed by anyone on any device. Apps do not allow for this and the market is unlikely to ever deliver a website like TfL’s.
The fact that the number of people visiting our websites continues to increase year on year indicates there is still a demand for them, despite the massive growth in apps. Last year we served over 70m unique users around 1.2bn page views in 250m visits – more than ever before.
Those developing for commercial purposes generally ‘cherry pick’ the easy stuff that will sell their app, so apps are rarely comprehensive. Without having our own website much of the information we hold about the vast range of TfL’s services and development activity would not be represented online at all.
In the longer term we’ll be developing personalised services which will interact with a single customer account. To do this we need a relationship directly with customers, not through third parties. We would use the website for this, but we’ve also not ruled out providing apps where it might make sense from a customer relationship point of view.