While the Buses Bill, launched two months ago, has had a lot of publicity, not a lot has been written about one aspect of it - the release of data. We know that a growing amount of real-time data is already being let out by operators: Arriva, for instance, started to release their real-time data for incorporation in Google Maps' journey planning last year. However, what is perhaps most significant is that the Bill specifically states that Fares Data will be required to be released, as Open Data.
When the idea of bus operators releasing fares data was mooted 10 years ago, and the DfT commissioned the building of a FareXchange data specification - as part of its then 'Transport Direct' programme - there was some measure of opposition from within the industry because of the perceived market power it might give to those able to exploit it. And at that time the data management challenges involved in transferring data on all bus fares were also seen as huge. So the idea was quietly put on the shelf (and eventually, under the Conservative-led coalition, Transport Direct itself was also put down).
But now both the general technological environment and the policy appetite for a wide release of transport data are very different. Last summer the Transport Systems Catapult published the report of its 'Traveller Needs and UK Capability Study'. This cited the opening up and release of data by transport operators and other stakeholders as a necessary requirement to give the UK a lead in Intelligent Mobility. In our view, those organisations which understand how, and have the capacity, to aggregate large amounts of transport data will have significant commercial leverage.
Another piece of legislation announced in the Queen's Speech in May was the Modern Transport Bill. Maybe drones and spaceports are not of much interest to the bus industry, but driverless vehicles, as mentioned in our previous blog post in May, should be. Before too long they will form a part of transport networks, and when they become available for hire they will potentially be both a complement and a threat to existing bus networks.
The latest development is Mobility as a Service (MaaS). In simple terms this is a 'one-stop' shop for a package of transport service - done through a simple payment mechanism where both purchase and delivery are managed digitally. It has been a very hot topic internationally for about 20 months now, is recognised as having the potential to give huge consumer benefits, and many developments are in hand worldwide to make it a reality. The Transport Systems Catapult has just last Friday (8th July) published an important report on the opportunities for MaaS in the UK, commissioned by the DfT - you can download it at https://ts.catapult.org.uk/news-events-gallery/news/new-report-sets-different-future-travel/.
A step towards MaaS: Xerox have produced a Mobility Companion pilot phone app for Go Denver that enables users to create and pay for combined multimodal trips from Point A to Point B based on pre-set preferences.
The report is framed heavily in terms of a reference architecture - and therefore largely avoids some significant issues like geographical coverage, application to rural areas, heterogeneity of mode types, user-led-design, physical interchange, interface with non-digital transport network features etc. However, nobody in senior management in the wider 'bus industry' (in public policy or in commercial operations) should doubt the importance of MaaS, which will integrate an increasing number of transport modes, including driverless 'for hire' vehicles as they become available. Two key things are happening now: firstly the very keen interest, worldwide, in the MaaS concept from large companies with huge digital aggregation abilities (e.g. Amazon, Xerox, Siemens, e-On etc.). And, secondly, the new powers for UK city regions under devolution and City Deals. Both of these will mean that the pressure on UK bus operators to join emerging MaaS schemes in the next few years will become very significant. Players in the bus industry need to start the process now of developing their attitudes to MaaS and their strategies to meet its opportunities and challenges.