The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation on legally requiring bus operators to share their data, allowing passengers to access real-time information on bus routes, timetables and fares.
Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani visited Reading Buses last Thursday, 5 July to announce the proposals, which also involve requiring operators to offer audio and visual next-stop announcements.
The two initiatives aim to ensure that passengers have all of the information they need at their fingertips, regardless of which service they are travelling on.
Reading Buses was selected to host the launch as it is already using open data on its services; the company has seen a 48% increase in passenger numbers since 2009.
During her visit, the minister also travelled on one of the operator’s buses, which included next stop screens, voice announcements and two wheelchair spaces.
Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Nobody enjoys waiting at a bus stop for 20 minutes not knowing when the next bus is going to turn up, only for two to then pull up at the same time.
“By requiring bus operators to share their data, we can make sure that passengers have the information they need to catch the bus with ease, equipped with the right information about the time and cost.
“This move will also open up opportunities for innovation within the industry, support local services where demand is falling and help increase bus usage across the country.”
John Bickerton, Reading Buses’ Head of Engineering and Innovation commented: “We are delighted that the DfT is highlighting the importance of open data for the bus industry.
“Here at Reading Buses, we have long been advocates of giving customers more information to help them on their journey – and importantly to help them decide to travel with us in the first place.
“We have long had a commitment to on-board audio and visual next stop announcements and have put information literally in our customers’ hands with the Reading Buses app, which not only shows when buses are due, but can also show the buses moving in real time on a map of the route.”
James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at the charity Guide Dogs added: “Accessible information on board buses is absolutely vital to help people with sight loss travel with confidence.
“We welcome this consultation as an important step towards a comprehensive and much needed network of Talking Buses.”
The Campaign for Better Transport has welcomed the plans, although it still believes more needs to be done.
Steve Chamber, Public Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Buses are a lifeline for many people, so while it is good to see some Bus Services Act innovation rolling out in the form of real-time information, we need urgent action to give more people and communities a usable bus service.
“Campaign for Better Transport also released its annual Buses in Crisis report this week, which showed local authorities’ bus budgets have been cut by £182m in the last eight years resulting in 3,347 routes altered, reduced or withdrawn.
“One of the main recommendations in the report is for the Government to support and encourage local authorities to use the Bus Services Act to maintain and restore local bus services.”