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DfT report makes case for open data in transport

13/08/18

A new report from the Department for Transport (DfT) has highlighted the potential benefits from making more transport information available as open data and laid out recommendations for making it possible.

Road in London at night

Local Transport Data Discovery says a few local authorities are doing a good job in the field but most have not yet developed their approach and need a coherent programme to support their efforts.

Compiled by consultancy North Highland, it comes from a 12-week discovery project in which the team engaged with 94 public and private sector organisations.

It highlights some of the benefits of opening up local authority data, including the potential to improve the efficiency and reduce the costs of transport networks, improving air quality and reducing emissions and helping the public plan their journeys better. It also emphasises the point made by the advocates of open data that it can encourage innovation in customer facing products and operational systems.

Emerging technologies are providing vast amounts of data and private sector companies are interested in real time information from local authorities. But getting it from a large number of them is a significant challenge, and the data would have to be standardised and sufficiently granular to realise it full value.

In addition, some of it is of poor quality as it comes from ageing systems run by local authorities.

There are also issues around data on parking, cycling and pedestrian movements, the road network and buses and coaches.

Need for investment

While some local authorities, such as Transport for London, are doing a good job in opening up data, most of it remains closed due to barriers and there is a need for investment to improve its quality and standardisation. Also, authorities have not fully developed their approach for using transport data for land use planning, prioritising road maintenance investment and supporting connected autonomous vehicles.

Despite this, the report says there are negative implications in not opening up the data. They include councils losing the ability to proactively manage their traffic and maintenance priorities, and undermining the development of apps and navigation systems that can help to provide a better experience for the travelling public.

This prompts a series of recommendations, including that local authorities should make more high quality data open. To this end, the report advocates the setting up of programmes to identify the relevant data, and a centrally funded team to replicate initiatives and help councils deliver successful projects. There should also be an effort to give councils clear guidance on open data.

Another recommendation is for the DfT to sponsor projects that could support better local transport services, streamline and digitise traffic regulation orders and develop a private/public national data catalogue. In addition, it should prioritise the spend on infrastructure to capture data.

There are also recommendations to build the relevant skills and encourage collaboration between local authorities, Highways England and the private sector.

Data is a critical resource for enabling more efficient and effective public services,” the report says. “Opening up data and removing barriers to effective data use across the public and private sector needs to be a priority as we look to evolve and improve England’s transport services.”

It adds that the DfT is now considering the next steps it needs to take.

Image by Niko Koutoulas, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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