Open sourcing public transport timetable software

I had a frustrating episode the other day trying to work out a three-way journey round Birmingham.  I wanted to know how to get to a given address by bus from the city centre.  In fact, what I'd have really liked would have been to know what the best journey was from where I was starting off.  And to have a reasonable idea of how long it would take.  This is something I've become used to being able to do easily in London, using TfL's journey planner. Birmingham is a smaller city.  And it doesn't have the rich mix of transport types – there are trains and there are buses.  No tubes, trams or DLR to deal with.  

However, online timetabling for buses is run by National Express and the interface is primarily focused on bus routes rather than point to point navigation.  That is, you have to know which bus route passes near to where you are now and which ones pass the place that you're going to and then you have to look up to see where you might be able to join them up.  This might mean you have to go into the city centre, but if you're in the south of the city and you're going to the west, then perhaps there's one that cuts out the need to crawl into the middle of town.  In any case, it requires a better knowledge of city-wide geography than most locals have let alone visitors or, say, people who were born there, but haven't lived there for nearly thirty years.

Messing with the structure of transport providers, public ownership or creating a new level of bureaucratic authority to deal with this seems over the top when the thinking behind integrating timetables online for a user-friendly perspective has already  been done.

Ha! So I got this far with this post and then looked up transport authorities, because I was unsure what was in place.  I found network west midlands and from there Traveline for the Midlands.  I don't know how I didn't get there before.  It's OK, but not very pretty.  And it's a bastard on mobile.

Anyway, there's still a point in this. This is the sort of vertical integration I wrote about recently.  We're used to the idea of open data, but what about TfL opening up the source of their journeyplanner for transport authorities in other cities. What if Traveline became an open source project that anyone could contribute to?  Rather than creating something completely from scratch to make sense of the data, how about creating something that we can all join in on and improve?  

Having already revealed my woeful research skills in this post once, I make no claims on the originality of the idea.  I'm sure there are public transport and opendata geeks who've been talking about it for years. Sorry.

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous