Department for Transport - Our Open Data/Transparency Story
Following the Coalition Government’s formation in May 2010 there was a seeming blitz of policy initiatives coming from the Cabinet Office, Transparency, Open Data, Empowering Consumers, MiData………most of which seemed to come in my direction, it was time to draw breath and assess how best to tackle these various demands. On reflection, although there was a real sense of urgency and pace; in reality this was part of an on-going process. When I ran National Rail Enquiries, it was the most phoned number in Europe (people loved transport information), in setting up Transport Direct we needed to acquire data and the permission to re-use data from at least 100 data providers (sharing data) and prior to 2010 we had already released the National Public Transport Access Nodes dataset (NaPTAN) as Open Data and developers loved it!
But now the net was to be cast wider (all transport data was deemed in scope), the release process needed to be quicker (PM letters on summer 2010 and 2011 demanded a delivery schedule) and data quality and timeliness needed to be improved. So it was clearly going to be a challenge, data owners had spent the last ten years jealously guarding their data as a much-loved asset (advertising on websites and value of on-line data were predicted to be major money generators in the early 2000’s) and we would need to convince the transport industry of the sense and business value of joining the Open Data revolution, rather than just relying on the excellence of their own information services (Transport London, National Rail Enquiries etc).
Steve Gooding, my DG, was very clear, we will do it and we will do it very well! So, we set up a Transport Transparency Board to oversee the process, to get input from the Open Data community, the centre of Government and to give a forum for talking to the data owners about the path to data release. We released data owned by DfT, including our expenditure, contracts, organisational arrangements, accident data, traffic counts and from my own area national cycle routes and car park data. From our agencies we released data about MoT tests on cars, driving tests, vehicle registrations and driver metrics. But the Holy Grail for developers has always been the data about “real” transport, so at the end of last year Highways Agency released huge swathes of planned and real-time road and traffic data and National Rail published weekly rail timetables and in the current year Traveline has published a weekly national dataset of bus timetables from April and in June Network Rail made a massive set of data available including real-time train running across its entire network!
And the developers love it, for example on the first day of their rail real-time Open Data adventure Network Rail had well in excess of 100 developers register for access to the data feeds.
So we are well into our journey (pun intended) with much success but with much still to do; we need to decide how to deal with the definition of networks, decide where to draw the boundary with commercial data, spread further into areas such as aviation and be careful to maintain privacy. The enhanced provisions of the Civil Aviation Bill and the results of the rail Fares and Ticketing consultation will both need to be taken into account. I am also keen to develop a real dialogue with the Open Data Community so that we can understand what they like and don’t like about the data already released, what their next priorities would be and issues around formats etc, but most importantly to see what they have done with the data so that we can start to tackle some of those “Value for Money” and “Benefits” issues.
It is not quite yet business as usual, but the momentum feels pretty powerful and increasingly our stakeholders across the transport industry really are seeing the benefits of opening up.
Nick Illsley | Chief Executive
Transport Direct Team
Department for Transport