The Hello, World! of open data development

As part of the Bristol is Open initiative the Council has released an API providing access to all manner of local transport data including live bus times. Given the complexity of the public transport environment in the city this is no mean feat and the team should be applauded.

The thing is though does the world really need another bus checker app? Sure it would be nice to see something as good as Citymapper (or even just Citymapper itself!) available for Bristol but just how many half-arsed clones can the Apple and Play stores sustain.

Building these apps seems to be the default every time any city opens up any public transport data — they are the ‘hello, world!’ of open data development at every hackday in the UK (and probably further afield.)

I always admire the skill that goes in to building any application given my total lack of skills but I really want to see the use of open data to make more real impactful changes. I want to see more ambition.

Just stick to transport and Bristol. We have horribly unreliable public transport that suffers constantly due to congestion, isn’t joined up between different transit choices and a city that pretty much grinds to a halt when there is any unplanned incident. We have neighbouring local authorities unable or unwilling to collaborate to properly join up public transport across the region.

What can all this data do to help improve things at that sort of scale? Can we move to more responsive timetables that respond to data models at different times of the day, month, year? How can we model journeys so that getting off a train at Parkway doesn’t lead to spending as much time waiting for the connecting bus as it did to get to the city?

Maybe the fabled Metrobus is utilising some of this in its planning?

I’m always pretty dismissive of the topic of smart cities as it seems like such a IBM(tm) kind of topic but there must be some kind of middle ground — if the city I love is truly going to be a ‘programmable city’ then I hope it creates more than the odd app for resident’s iPhones and instead looks to our history. I.K.Brunel engineered the infrastructure that lasted generations — now is the opportunity to do that with data.

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