Creating an open disruption standard

Making disruption reporting across the UK more consistent and efficient - and winning a hackathon along the way

Published on 23rd March 2016 by Jonathan Ginn

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Responding to a challenge set by Traveline at the Smarter Travel LIVE hackathon in London last week, Base created a system to standardise and increase the reach of disruption information generated by mobility providers and organisations with an interest in minimising road congestion, e.g. bus operators.

I’m chuffed to say we won the hack against some great teams, including IBM who built some great tech using their AI-as-a-Service platform Watson.

Traveline is a national organisation that represents transport companies, local authorities and passenger groups. A lot of transport apps, including CityMapper and Google Maps, are made possible by the work Traveline do to centralise and open up the data.

But until now disruption data hasn’t been a part of that open data set. Most bus and rail operators will post disruption information straight to their social media channels, with varying degrees of quality and usefulness to people on the receiving end trying to adjust their travel plans as things change. None of this information is filtered, so to a large degree they’re firehosing everyone with all of the information, all of the time. Throw a bit of marketing information into those channels and it can get noisy very quickly.

When you think about it, it makes total sense to use these free channels to communicate with as large a number of customers as possible, but with a small shift in the thinking we figured we could reduce the effort for operators who want to communicate and create a standard that means the effort put in will have a much greater impact and value to the customer.

The hack we built allows operators to continue to post to Facebook and Twitter, creating a more consistent and easy to read format for passengers, and importantly creating a central database of all UK disruptions, for anyone to access through an API in a standardised way. It also allows operators and apps to take advantage of existing data sources, such as roadworks.org from Elgin, that can automate and streamline what can be a resource hungry activity.

These disruptions are passed through a system that associates them with the bus routes that it might affect, and then outputs that as a standardised API.

By creating a standard for the disruptions that affect our highways daily, we can organise them and compare them to what bus routes they may affect, letting operators know what things are affecting them in real time, creating a trigger for an alternative action, like re-routing or deploying more vehicles as just a couple of examples (think about an on-demand based bus/vehicle network in the future).

If you haven’t seen already, check out my post on what we hacked together and take a gander at Chris’ post about how we made it.

As for turning a hack into a reality, watch this space.

Published on 23rd March 2016

Developer Evangelist

Jonathan Ginn