January meeting with TfGM

January’s Open Data Manchester was a transport special, with Craig Berry and Dave Busby from TfGM giving an update as to the types of data that TfGM hold, and what they are trying to release. Open Data Manchester people may already know of Craig Berry as the Information Manager who has been tasked with identifying and releasing open data. Dave Busby’s brief is for integrated ticketing and real-time information.

TfGM reinforced its position with regard to open data at the meeting. There has been a number of rumours over the past twelve months as to what the organisation was trying to release to DataGM – Greater Manchester’s open data portal . TfGM are currently releasing data with regard to bus schedules, NaPTAN stop locations, fixed and mobile speed camera locations and monthly Road Traffic Collision updates. There had been mooted some realtime data would be released.

Greater Manchester has been crying out for an intelligent integrated ticketing system. To many a lack of such system has made travel by public transport around Greater Manchester more difficult than it should be. To this end TfGM are developing a specification that will go to tender in the 1st half of 2012. The system will initially cover Metrolink and then encompass Greater Manchester buses. The system will use contactless technologies in a similar vein to TfL’s Oyster Card but with the added functionality of being able to use contactless bankcards and NFC phones. It was interesting to note the certainty that NFC will be adopted, by most handset companies within the next year. Paying by Google Wallet was also mentioned as a possibility. The ticketing system will also have fare rules that will calculate the best price for journeys undertaken.

Although getting Integrated ticketing to work with Metrolink would be a relatively easy task and a useful test bed to prove the utility of the system, getting Greater Manchester’s 40+ independent commercial bus operators to adopt the system maybe more challenging and may need a certain amount of political will. Anonymised journey data from the system or personal access to journey history wasn’t discussed in detail, although the later seems to be fairly standard in smart ticketing systems, access to anonymised data could offer huge potential for applications and services that look at gate loading on routes, passenger density etc.

The advent of the oft mooted, realtime data from TfGM looks closer – although there was no specific timescale mentioned. There will be access to the Metrolink Passenger Information Displays data, although how this will manifest itself is uncertain. Developers present at the meeting suggested that JSON would be preferable. The main challenge with accessing real-time Metrolink location data is that the Tram Management System currently being implemented isn’t currently functioning throughout the network. The initial release of data will cover the South Manchester line and Eccles lines.

Although it doesn’t look like there will be any real-time bus data soon, TfGM would like to release the location information of the free Centreline buses that are being operated on TfGM’s behalf. This data will be location data that won’t identify the actual service the bus is running. It was suggested that as there are only three distinct Centreline routes it wouldn’t be that complicated to identify, even where the routes overlap. There is also an Informed Personal Traveller pilot that is being run in Bury by Logica, ACIS and First Bus. It uses a number of technologies including an AVL system that has been fitted to approximately 100 of their buses. The IPT application hasn’t been released yet and there are indications that the system is closed.

TfGM recently submitted a bid to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and written into it is the provision of open data and the development of an intelligent multi-modal Journey Planner pulling all relevant data that TfGM has at it’s disposal, how developers could access the Journey Planner was discussed and whether it would exclude the provision of other types of journey data.

There is a move to make other data available through the LSTF, these include Car Park updates, real-time disruption data, journey down roads data and feeds off TfGM’s SCOOT adaptive traffic control system. SCOOT controls half of the approximately 2000 traffic control signals in Greater Manchester.

The lack of transparency with regard to bus fare structures within Greater Manchester has been a subject that has come up many times, especially regarding anecdotal evidence that dependant communities are charged more per mile than others having viable transport alternatives. TfGM stated that Greater Manchester is one of the few places where bus travel is generally more expensive than rail. To this end TfGM are interested in developing a project similar to one that Open Data Manchester was developing over a year ago that encouraged travelers to submit the details of their journey and price.

At the close of the discussion TfGM were encouraged to use the Open Data Manchester Google Group as a resource to ask questions and to highlight initiatives and challenges.