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London gets real-time bus information… at last!

In one of the most significant new data releases of the year, London Buses have this week released live bus departure information for every stop in London on countdown.tfl.gov.uk. This is a beta service to test the system, and users should read the release notes for further details. This release follows the publication of public transport timetables last September and live tube departures by TfL last December. Dozens of apps have been produced using this data, which are showcased in the inspirational uses section of this site.

This is a hugely important new data release as Londoners make more than 2 billion bus trips per year, which is double the number of trips on the tube. Release of the data is one of the key outcomes of the iBus project, which led to the fitting of all London’s 8,500 buses with GPS, odometers and gyroscopes to record bus progress and to drive on-board announcements (by voice artist Emma Hignett). This information has been used by the London Buses control centre, service controllers and the private operators of the bus fleets to monitor buses since 2009. So London Datastore is delighted that London Buses have now released the information on the web, and on the mobile web at m.countdown.tfl.gov.uk.

Developers are also keen to use Countdown to feed into apps and web services, however, an API for the service is still under development and is not expected until later in the autumn. In the meantime you can look up the stop number used in the service in the feed published on the TfL developer pages under ‘Bus stop locations and routes’ (requires registration with TfL to get the full list). Linkage to National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN) is not currently supported, but TfL will augment the files on the developer pages when this becomes available. At the moment Countdown is updated not much more than once a minute, so the development team (and other users) would appreciate it if services built on the current web pages do not “scrape it to death”.

This feels like a massive #opendata step forward for London, and a big thanks to London Buses for getting this service running. We look forward to seeing the API: please comment on your experiences of the service in the comments below and let London Buses know what they should build to maximise value for developers when the API is finalised.

Jonathan Raper

placr.co.uk