Three years after setting off, Bus Open Data Service wants consultants to help it on its journey

UK tender hopes to boost beleaguered local bus services

The UK's Department for Transport is promising a £24 million ($30 million) contract to a tech biz that can help set up a wide range of data services to provide information on local bus services.

The DfT said it expected that the provision of high quality, accurate and open data would "help passengers plan journeys, find best value tickets and get real-time service updates whatever part of England they are in," according to a tender notice to start early engagement with suppliers.

The search for better data in the pockets of passengers looking for a bus has been in-train for more than three years.

In 2020, DfT launched plans for the Bus Open Data Service (BODS), a digital service for making bus service information available as open data under the Public Service Vehicles Regulations. It allowed the transport minister to legislate and require bus operators to open data for local bus services across England on routes and timetables, fares and tickets and location information from 2020.

Some of these data services already exist.

From 31 December 2020, there was an obligation to provide bus timetable data to the service. The following January, operators were obliged to give BODS vehicle location and basic fares and tickets data, while from the start of this year, operators needed to offer complex fares and ticket data to comply with the law. Companies such as ITO World and Omnibus have begun providing tools and services based on the data available.

The hope is that data will make local buses more appealing to travellers. In a policy paper that was published along with the plans — and with the help of Deloitte and the Open Data Institute — the department said it wanted “a mobility ecosystem that delivers seamless intermodal transportation faster, cheaper, cleaner, more responsive and safer than today. This will be enabled by open data on fares and journeys across all modes – data that is available to everyone to access, use and share".

The paper said there are three times as many trips in England made by local bus than by rail, with more than 60 percent of all public transport journeys made by bus.

However, the BODS project has come with some difficulties. In 2020, government spending watchdog the National Audit Office said [PDF] the DfT recognized concerns from smaller operators about potential costs of complying with the open data requirements. “It has provided free data creation tools and data hosting and plans further support; it is too early to assess the level of compliance or quality of data or whether these measures will stimulate demand and increase the beneficial effects of competition for users.”

More details of how the BODS will get extra help will emerge in October next year when the department starts the formal competition for a supplier by publishing a contract notice.

Whatever the outcome, the DfT hopes to get more up-to-date information to passengers by using the BODS. Whether they can get a bus is another matter. Reports last month said at least 1,500 bus routes had been cut in England over the last two years. ®

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