Transport Special

Tuesday 28th June 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Spaceport X
1st Floor
24-26 Lever Street
Manchester
M1 1DZ

More details and directions here

A yearly look at the state of open transport data in Greater Manchester and beyond. This event will look at how open data can make the way we navigate and use our transport system easier, more pleasant and better.

TfGM will be demonstrating their new API portal and the Highways data they will be making available through the AToM (Advanced Traffic Management System). So if you are interested in getting access to the portal pre-release and trying out the APIs bring a laptop.

There will also be an update from TfGM as to what will be coming later in the year and an opportunity to hear about other transport-focussed open data initiatives.

Register here

Routes to the Future: An Innovation Challenge

FutureEverything and Transport for Greater Manchester present the Routes to the future: An innovation challenge, an intensive 48 hour competition aimed at coders and creative software developers to build new, useful applications from TfGM’s data that will improve the public transport experience for people of Greater Manchester. There are cash and development prizes available for the best ideas.

Being held as part of the FutureEverything Summit of Ideas and Digital Invention, the weekend will be held at Four Piccadilly Place and will begin straight after the main FutureEverything conference ends with a launch event from 6pm – 7.30pm on Friday 22 March. The innovation challenge itself will begin at 8am on Saturday 23 March.
Routes to the future is set to be an intense, productive and exciting collaboration between the brightest minds in software development and data processing. Entries from both teams and individuals are welcome. The cash prize and development fund available is over £16,000.

Challenge Categories are:
Best use of real-time data
Best use of multiple datasets
Best application created on the CitySDK API
Most Innovative use of data
Best U21 application
Developers Prize

Amongst the datasets TfGM will make available will be GTFS schedules and realtime Centreline positional information as well as the data already available through the DataGM – The Greater Manchester Datastore.

Click here to sign up

Routes to the Future: An Innovation Challenge is a partnership between TfGM and FutureEverything supported by Open Data Institute, Tech Hub Manchester and Manchester University

ODM – September 2012 Edition

6.30pm – 8.30pm, Tuesday 25th September
Venue: MDDA, 117-119 Portland Street, Manchester M1 6ED

Sign up on Eventbrite

After a brief summer hiatus Open Data Manchester is back and temporarily at a different venue.
The last event saw James Cattell from Digital Birmingham, Andrew MacKenzie from the UK Governments Open Data User Group and Jag Goraya from GIST Foundation in Sheffield talking about how open data initiatives were developing in Birmingham and Sheffield and Birmingham City Council’s adoption of a corporate open data strategy.

Since the last meeting there has been quite a bit of activity mostly around some forthcoming hackdays and support for open data initiatives in Manchester. Last Tuesday we had the launch of Tech Hub Manchester in Carver’s Warehouse on Dale Street, Manchester. This is going to be a new co-working space networked into Tech Hub London and a wider international digital start-up community and we will be having the Tech Hub people coming to talk about the initiative and Start-up Weekend a two day hack event utilising open data.

The City of Manchester is also looking at developing open data as far as part of a new Technology Strategy Board – Future Cities Demonstrator project. This is a large £24 million fund that will help the creation of digital services within the city. Anne Dornan who is working on the project will explain how open data fits into this.

If you are interested in public transport, and a lot of people are, Move*Manchester is an Innovation Challenge that will be running in March 2013. The planning is being finalised, but it will entail a weekend event based around a hackathon that will lead to product development and support. The prize fund and support package to develop products and services will be approximately £35,000 and is part of the CitySDK programme run by FutureEverything and Manchester City Council with the support of Open Data Manchester. More details to follow.

Also we will be looking at the latest data releases on DataGM, TfGM, cool developments and anything else people want to show

Transport Special – ODM May

Transportation holds a lot of interest for many in the open data community. The availability of transport open data and realtime transport open data offers the potential to create diverse, innovative applications and services, as well as a greater understanding of how transportation systems work.

The meeting was an opportunity to get an update from Craig Berry and Dave Busby from TfGM as to the progress they were making in opening up the data within TfGM. Back in 2010 TfGM made a commitment to start making available open data. This began with the release of the ATCO-CIF Timetable data in July 2010.

In January, Dave and Craig outlined what data they were trying to release and some of the technical, organisational and contractual obstacles that needed to be overcome, they were encouraged to join the Open Data Manchester Google Group and use it as a means of finding out what data developers were interested in and in what form. This they did and the update they gave seemed to reflect this.

The presentation is attached. What was apparent from the presentation was that there was a real willingness to involve the ODM community in the process of release and it was hoped that through this engagement, a greater awareness of need and organisational intelligence would develop.

TfGM Presentation

Following on from the TfGM update Nathan Day, Business Development Manager of Rockshore gave a preview of the soon to be released Network Rail realtime data APIs at the moment it is in Beta and Network Rail are only allowing 100 people access. It is due to be launched at the end of June.

The specifications and structure of the data are contained within the developer pack Developer pack for Network Rail data feeds

Although the structure of the data is described there is little context to understand what the data is describing and it will be up to the developer community to create this.

It is hoped that there will be another transport update later in the year.

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.

Open Data in Manchester: Challenges and Opportunities

This blog post was originally written for the Open Knowledge Foundation blog.

Open Data Cities was initiated in May 2009, premised on the simple question of how cities would evolve if all data were made open. Would the same inequalities and asymmetries persist for example? Moreover, what would need to happen within the city to bring about the adoption of more open and transparent practices?

Greater Manchester is a region in the North West of England with a population of 2.8 million people. It comprises of 10 boroughs containing two cities and many large towns. Open Data Cities approached the city as a functioning organism comprising of these 10 boroughs. For the project to have a genuine impact with its inhabitants, we proposed that the project would need to align with how people used the city rather than the ways in which the city was administered. The reality within the city is that although people access services across authorities and whilst there are a number of pan-Greater Manchester public bodies, local authorities still deliver services to tight geographical boundaries.

Addressing the whole Greater Manchester region in this way, created an environment that allowed the project to evolve in a particular way. As the region was adopting City Region status this would require a certain alignment in terms of data and information. The granting of City Region status also opened up the possibility of bringing about an elected mayor, enabling, theoretically, a coherent region-wide strategy to be implemented.

Working across the ten boroughs – all with their own democratically elected councils is not without its challenges. Each public body has its own administrative and data structure and specific set of difficulties. It was therefore necessary to adopt a pragmatic, non-threatening approach as part of our project. Conversations therefore centered around the idea of allowing citizens to look ‘under the hood’ of public service so to speak, of creating better understanding of what councils do. Most importantly we were interested in rebalancing the relationship between public service and citizen and the possibility for services to be delivered with citizens rather than simply to citizens.

Communicating The Benefits

We were often challenged as to how the release of data would benefit the person on the street and who would create the applications and interpretations to allow this to happen. At the start of the Open Data Cities project the Open Data Manchester community was formed to provide evidence that there was indeed a ‘demand’ for the release of open data within the region. We argued that by giving people the tools to understand and act within communities, open data would have broader benefits too. Moreover, there was a growing acceptance that enabling people to access the data and information relevant to their locality was important. This in part has been born out by the emergence of hyperlocal blogging as a means of disseminating news and information at a community level.

Open Data Cities also strongly emphasised the innovation and economic benefits such open data could bring to the region. Opening up the ‘undiscovered country’ of open data, could kick start an economy based on the creation of data services. We had seen examples where companies such as Elbatrop software in London had created best selling applications for San Francisco based on released tree data. If Greater Manchester released data this could present an opportunity for developers to create applications that could have relevance beyond the Greater Manchester region. Research had identified that open data could add £6 billion of added value to the UK economy, how much of that value could be injected into the regional economy?

High value, ‘quality of life’ datasets were identified. Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive now TfGM, made the decision to release large and regularly updated datasets. This sparked a number of good applications but most of them were ‘proof of concept’ with little that could really be considered ready for market. This wasn’t the ‘release the data and people will build cool stuff’ future that we had been promoting, and even though the transport authority had now committed to making data open as a default position, they were very aware that not much was being built.

Acknowledging the Barriers

By talking to people who were involved in Open Data Manchester and the wider Greater Manchester digital community, it became apparent that although open data offered opportunities, there were a number of significant barriers that were inhibiting the development of services. These could be seen as return on investment, risk and liability.

The return on investment argument was quite apparent from early on. People have to make a living and generally want to see their efforts rewarded. By Open Data Cities embracing the 2.8 million people of Greater Manchester it was hoped that there would be enough people to sustain a market in Open Data application development. In order to kickstart this market it was proposed that a number of innovation challenges with sizeable incentives should take place.

It was obvious that there were no large digital businesses in the open data space and we had long held the view that their presence would be an indicator of the health of the open data innovation ecosystem. A suggested reason for the scarcity being that open data licensing was transferring all the risk on to the developer, whereas previously data would be generally released with some sort of service level agreement, none of these guarantees exist with open licensing. The idea of spending large amounts of development time on applications built on data that could then be turned off was deemed too risky.

Liability was also an issue. Who would be liable if someone had bought an application where the data was suddenly turned off or were inaccurate? There were also concerns as to the robustness of supplied data and the sometimes, archaic formats data were supplied in. The liability argument was also been put forward as a ‘supply side’ reason for non-disclosure both from a robustness of data and command and control perspective.

Collaboration

When FutureEverything and Trafford Council began working together on DataGM – The Greater Manchester Datastore, many of the local authorities were in a state of panic through having to negotiate the drastic shortfalls in budget. It was becoming apparent that innovation and citizen empowerment, although appealing were the least of concerns. Public bodies are still in a time of fiscal stress and it has been stated that few, if any, public bodies innovate out of a crisis.

All Greater Manchester local authorities and most pan-Greater Manchester public bodies are represented on the datastore steering group – The benefit of having a local authority leading the project, is their ability to get people around the table. Whilst some members of the group understood the logic of having a datastore and shared intelligence, there was a lot of resistance. Members stated despair at being involved with a project where they didn’t know if they would still be in post in three months time, with others not seeing the point of spending time and resource on something that didn’t have concrete output. There was also a very tangible silo mentality where the idea of shared intelligence across authorities was seen as attractive but not essential.

Evidence and Evolution

As the DataGM project gathered momentum more evidence started to emerge as to the inefficiencies of maintaining a siloed and closed data culture. The servicing of Freedom of information requests costs Greater Manchester public bodies over £4 million a year, over 600 public officials a day are unable to find or use data that they require in order to carry out their jobs – costing authorities over £8.5 million a year. The annoying tendency – for public bodies – of citizens using services outside their borough boundaries also creates difficulties. With no pan – Greater Manchester data initiative it is difficult for public bodies to create and deliver on coherent regional strategies. Open data offers a solution.

Now DataGM is becoming established the economic logic of using a centralised data catalogue, where the data that local authorities use themselves is openly available, is starting to make sense. Open data needs to be transformational. For public bodies enhanced engagement and the creation of innovative services are not enough. We are at a stage where we are saying if you spend A you will get savings of B and with open data you will also gain benefits of C, D, E…

DataGM is starting to develop data release schedules so that local authorities can release similar data in a coordinated way. With developers such as Swrrl – one of the recent winners of the EU Open Data Challenge, some of that data is being expressed as Linked Data. The Open Data Manchester community continues to grow. Although there is still a long way to go with open data in Manchester it feels like more people within public service are starting to see the benefits, and the possibility of Greater Manchester becoming an Open Data City gets closer.