NSW Govt blocks another transport app


blog Those of us with long memories will recall how that den of rationality RailCorp threatened a Sydney software developer with legal action in 2009 after it built a train timetabling application. Well, that case was eventually resolved, and the NSW Government threw open its data doors, inviting all and sundry to use its online assets to build more apps.

However, it turns out that glorious period of openness and working with the community was short-lived. The Sydney Morning Herald reports, and his own website backs up, that local developer Ben Hosken’s bus timetabling app has been put on ice after the NSW Government withdrew the data hours after it had made available … after his app proved a little too popular.

“A spokesman for the Transport Department yesterday said the government did not yet have sufficient computer capacity to provide real-time bus information permanently. “The system is not yet able to provide a reliable or sustainable feed,” the spokesman said.”

Our question is …. how hard can it be for a State Government to provide a text data feed for third-party developers to work with? It’s not as if this stuff is rocket science. All it would take is a moderately powered web server and a bit of ingenuity. But apparently we’re all out of that in NSW? Alternatively, could someone in the transport portfolio just develop an in-house app, so that third-party developers don’t have to keep on doing the Government’s job for it? Come on, people — it’s 2011 already.

Image credit: Kim Navarre, Creative Commons


      • The original data wasn’t really open for that reason; they tried to bolt on these extra conditions like “You must not use the Data in any way that could create false or misleading outcomes or interpretations, or bring the RTA into ridicule or disrepute. You must not use the Data in conjunction with the promotion of alcohol or unsafe road practices.” http://www.data.nsw.gov.au/files/apps4nsw_RTA_bus_arrival_data_licence_CC-BY-NC-ND.PDF

        I think Yarra Trams in Melbourne has similar conditions – this data is just too powerful, you could graph the lateness in all sorts of politically sensitive ways (Public transport works better in marginal state seats?)

  1. The Japanese skip some of this – I saw little lcd displays at bus stops listing eta’s for the next buses (just like a train station, only tiny, bit bigger than a phone). Admittedly this doesn’t help you decide weather to run to bus stop or not.

    • Melbourne has this for it’s trams. When you get to the stop there is a lil LCD screen showing next tram, where it’s going and how far away it is.

      This isn’t at all stops but it is real handy, to know if you should cram onto the tram at the stop or wait for the next one

    • Brisbane has something like this for its buses – LED signs at some bus stops that show when the next bus is due to arrive. The problem is, they don’t actually update with live data, so they’re basically useless. Buses that have been and gone early – or aren’t even running that day – will appear on the display anyway, and buses that are running late will disappear from the display before they arrive, making you think you’ve missed the bus.

    • I’d love to be able to catch the train to work, but it takes me 60mins each way by car (live on the Central Coast) and would take about 100mins by train, assuming they were on time. Cost more or less the same.

  2. Sheesh – haven’t they heard of XML or XMPP?

    As for not using it “in any way that could create false or misleading outcomes or interpretations”, that is just a cop out. If they keep the data up to date, how could it be false or misleading?

    Yarra Trams down here have displays at most major tram stops with live information, delivered by an RF radio system, simple and easy. It updates itself on the fly, and most of the time is accurate to within a minute or two. All the trams have GPS units to update the information.

    The information also updates into their TramTrack iOS and Android apps.

    If the NSW government want to encourage NSW to be the ICT leaders of Australia, best they start being realistic, and get their head out of the sand.

  3. Metro also have their own app for all modes of transport in Melbourne – bus, train, tram and V-Line. It gives all timetables and allows trip planning across all modes.

    It doesn’t give live updates on bus and train positions but it does provide access to the published timetable changes and delays.

    The TramTracker app does give updates and estimated arrival times for the next tram based on your location.

    The RTA in NSW should take a look at both apps as an example of what they need to do. Heck, they may even be able to cut a deal with Metro in Vic.

    • I don’t think it’s any kind of case of mistrust of data. Probably more a case of them not wanting to see anyone else derive any possible financial benefit from their data – data that it costs them to produce.

      Whether or not that’s a reasonable position to take is a philosophical debate.

  4. While the SMH article has focused on one App that is affected by this, there are a number of them.

    Personally for public transport timetables I use TripView, which which allows you view train/bus/ferry timetables and define multi leg trips.
    And during the brief window of time when GPS data was available, it also showed you where your bus was.
    But it has the same real time data problems (though timetables are still updated).



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