In a footnote to Boris Johnson’s reconfirmation of the troubled HS2 railway megaproject, the Department for Transport announced additional funding for buses. £5 billion (less £350 million … or maybe a billion … for cycling) over 5 years, spread across “every region outside London”. Presumably within England, since local transport policy is devolved elsewhere, although in a nebulous style typical of the Prime Minister, the language is of “country” – however one chooses to see it.
Needless to say this “new vision for local transport” is extremely light on detail, as yet devoid of strategy, and still pending the appropriate Comprehensive Spending Review. We’d all be well advised to get it in writing first.
One billion pounds per year is not entirely insignificant – almost 50p per bus passenger journey (in England outside London) or just over £1 per bus vehicle mile operated. Potentially enough to buy aspirations for “higher frequency services” or “more affordable, simpler fares” on urban networks. But nowhere near enough to deliver “turn up and go” frequencies in small town, periurban or rural areas, where patronage and consequent farebox revenue would tend to be minimal. A but that will be the bane of this politically, since much of the electoral constituency of Johnson’s government is small town, periurban or rural, precisely the places where public transport does not deliver as much “bang for the buck”. Continue reading “Buses are Always a Footnote”
An exposition of the current regulatory travails of Britain’s Community Transport sector, with an exploration of the legal possibilities for operating Dial & Ride style community services using vehicles with capacity of no more than eight. This essay provides insight into why there is so little taxi policy locally, and why the British have such a problem with sharing. Continue reading “Dialling a Ride for Eight”
As the complexity of public transport networks grew during the 20th century, so did the inventiveness of the attempts to communicate those networks to users. Angular schematic maps, in the form of the London Underground map attributed to Harry Beck, have since become common for core urban and suburban public transport networks. Since at least the 1990s these maps have infected service design, with high frequency bus networks increasingly structured to be readily communicable as stylised network maps – inevitably limiting the range of direct destinations offered. Inter-regional networks necessarily remain complicated, and, as illustrated by various European attempts at national network flow maps, are challenging to communicate in schematic form. At least on paper. Continue reading “Aquius – An Alternative Approach to Public Transport Network Discovery”
This essay examines how the art of public competition functions when one of its most important competitors is absent. The suspension of policy-making within the Generalitat de Catalunya, following the region’s failed bid for independence, provided an almost unique opportunity to observe the strategic processes and limitations of the art of public competition. The optimistic finances of metro line 9/10 set the context, followed by analysis of the reactions of the city and metropolitan area of Barcelona to the Generalitat’s hiatus. That analysis exposes vast differences in the funding models of higher and lower tiers of Spanish government, which can be traced to the availability of externally-financed debt. Continue reading “Public Competition in Post-Independència Catalunya”
This essay explores the workings of the art of public competition, in search of the reasons for its conflict with liberalisation. It details the interurban bus “market” serving Barcelona’s hinterland, with reference to passenger usage, historical policy, administrative structure, and comparative costs. Analysis suggests a dualistic form of counter-balancing competition on key routes, regulated by the need to maintain equality between operators – albeit an equality bounded by the operators’ focus, which often masks an inequitable distribution of public funding within public transport overall. A pattern conflated by the tendency to emphasise only short run operating costs, and sometimes rely, almost blindly, on higher tiers of the state for fixed assets. Continue reading “Interurban Buses in Public Competition”
The UK‘s local public transport data is effectively a closed dataset. The situation in the US seems similar: In spite of the benefits only a handful of agencies have released raw data freely (such as BART and TriMet on the west coast of America).
That hasn’t stopped “screen-scraping” of data or simply typing in paper timetables (from Urban Mapping to many listed here). Unfortunately, the legal basis for scraping is complex, which creates significant risks for anyone building a business. For example, earlier this year, airline Ryanair requested the removal of all their data from Skyscanner, a flight price comparison site that gathers data by scraping airlines’ websites. How many airlines would need to object to their data being scraped before a “price comparison” service becomes unusable?
User-generated mapping content is evolving, often to circumvent restrictive distribution of national mapping. Services include OpenStreetMap and the recently announced Google Map Maker.
Micro-blogging, primarily through Twitter, has started to show the potential of individual travellers to report information about their journeys: Ron Whitman‘s Commuter Feed is a good example. Tom Morris has also experimented with London Twitter feeds.
This article outlines why the “social web”/tech-entrepreneur sector may wish to stop trying to use official sources of data, and instead apply the technology it understands best: People. Continue reading “Social Reconstruction of Public Transportation Information”
The United Kingdom’s local public transport network is likely to become part of Google Transit. Technically that should be far easier in the UK than in North America, where Google Transit was first developed: The UK has a decade’s bitter experience putting all the data together. In practice it is raising wider issues over data control and availability, that the public sector is somewhat reluctant to tackle.
This article describes how the UK’s public transport data is being integrated into Google. It questions why data is being made available based solely on the business model adopted. It explores the real value of this information, and presents a case for the liberalisation of data.
Readers unfamiliar with the topic area should read my earlier Introduction to UK Local Public Transport Data, which contains non-technical background information, and defines many of the terms used (such as “local”). The original research for this was done in June/July 2007, so may now be slightly out of date.
The illustration on the right is the Google part of a visual representation of web trends, based on the Tokyo metro map, by Information Architects Japan.
Continue reading “Implications of Google Transit in the UK”