This afternoon, Transport for London opened up an API to share the data normally displayed in bus shelters with one and all, so expect a deluge of route-planning apps just in time for the Olympics.
The API joins up existing data feeds for Boris-bike availability, vehicle traffic and waiting times for trains, and is already being used internally for the SMS bus-information service and TfL website, but from this afternoon developers will get access to a JSON/HTTP feed allowing integration with applications, mobile or otherwise.
London buses are tracked by GPS, so shelters routinely have three-line screens saying how long you'll have to wait for one, but the TfL service already helps you to stay in the pub while you wait if you're prepared to navigate the website or use SMS (we are). But opening the API should let developers provide more-intuitive interfaces and integration with existing applications ("one more dancing cat video, and then your bus will be waiting").
Londoners rarely seem to appreciate just how effective their bus network is; compared to the rest of the country it's a model of efficiency and convenience. The Oyster card removes the need to scrabble for change and with a smartphone one doesn't even need to hang around the bus stop optimistically looking down the road, but London's scale makes it as dependent on public transport as it is impenetrable to cars.
The data is generally accurate enough to rely on, though not perfect as regular travellers will know, and when errors do occur the frustration one feels is disproportionate to the inconvenience suffered.
Google Maps is already using TfL's tube data, and the Chocolate Factory surely won't take long to integrate bus information too, allowing every bumpkin to plan a route across London like a local, even during the Olympics. ®