TP Blog: Opening up data for better journeys

3rd Sep 2019

Effective use of data could hold the key to providing more reliable, cleaner and greener transport infrastructure and services fit for the future. This is being recognised by the Government which is set to open up data around planned road closures and other changes to the network, writes TP’s news editor Steve Dale.

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Technology firms and app developers, it says, will soon be given access to this information in a move that could help to improve journeys for motorists and even contribute to route planning systems for autonomous vehicles.

The decision follows a review of legislation around Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), which are created by local authorities to allow temporary streetworks or permanent changes to the road. It is estimated that 53,300 TRO and Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders are made annually.

The Department for Transport believes that opening TRO data will unlock the potential to develop and enhance navigational apps powered by artificial intelligence to warn drivers of likely traffic jams – sometimes months in advance – and offer alternative routes.

There is already precedent for this. Real time travel data shared by Transport for London has been used in the development of hundreds of third party mobile apps, including those providing journey planning and navigation.

And, in Finland, data made open in Helsinki has helped to support the development of trailblazing Mobility as a Service platform Whim, which combines journey planning with ticketing in an attempt to better the convenience offered by private cars.

Commenting on the Government’s plans, the Minister responsible for future transport George Freeman said: “As a road user, there is nothing more frustrating than discovering roadworks and getting stuck in traffic jams.

“When councils and utilities plan work months in advance, why don’t we tell drivers so that they can avoid roadworks?”

How often do you leave home by car, whether for a local journey or a longer trip, only to stumble along the way into an unexpected set of temporary traffic lights? Had your navigation app been aware in advance it could have advised a faster alternative. But instead you are left waiting – not the end of the world, but an inconvenience.

In this scenario, opening data about planned closures is a win-win that will not only improve the journey experience for motorists but also support ambitions to reduce air pollution from idling vehicles.

Government’s next step will involve working with stakeholders to introduce legislation that makes it easier to access the TRO data. Its recent review was carried out alongside the British Parking Association, Ordnance Survey and street data specialist GeoPlace.

“TROs are an essential piece of national infrastructure data that need to be made available in a nationally consistent format,” said GeoPlace managing director Nick Chapallaz.

“We worked collaboratively with local authorities who have a statutory obligation to create TROs and it is clear that they would value a review of legislation to increase the visibility of TRO information and reduce inconvenience to the public.”

The case seems clear. Opening up transport data can help to support a wide range of Government, local authority and stakeholder objectives, and put simply, make journeys better for people. Hopefully we continue to see activity in this direction to help unlock better integrated, sustainable and more freely flowing transport systems.

(Photograph: Jag_cz – Shutterstock)

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