Welcome news as London transport data opened up

As Wired reports:

Transport for London has announced that it’s lifting all restrictions on the commercial use of its data. The move could fuel an explosion in mobile apps that need access to the datasets, making them more attractive to developers who want to charge for their apps.

Currently, TfL offers up a selection of datasets, including live traffic cameras, Oyster card top-up locations, pier and station locations, cycle hire locations, and riverboat timetables. Some new data has been issued, including live tube travel info and departure boards, and the transport giant also plans to release further information on bus stops, routes, and timetables and schedules before 30 June, 2010.

The release of the datasets for commercial use will mean that existing London travel apps will get extra functionality, and more complex apps will begin to spring up. More importantly, developers will be able to get paid for their work, so the quality of the apps is likely to rise.

It’s a smart move because it means the emphasis on working out how to make best use of the data shifts from TfL to the wider commercial sector. That means people can experiment (and fail) in a way that is much harder when politicians, media (and yes, bloggers) are looking over your shoulder waiting to shout “Waste of public money!” if an idea doesn’t pan out. It also means that Transport for London can concentrate on what it is (or should be) good at – running transport services, whilst letting those who are good at developing data services and marrying up different commercial ideas can do what they’re good at.

Often one drawback in such situations is that private provision can either mean that data is no longer free at the point of use, reducing its use, or that people end up paying more (as there are profit margins to cover). However, in this case that’s unlikely to be a problem as there is already a strong eco-systems of civic-minded service providers who take and resuse data in a not-for-profit way. That, and competition in the private sector with data being equally available to all, will keep in check any such problems.

Lib Dem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has welcomed the move:

This decision has my total backing. By lifting restrictions on such useful information we can now unleash the huge talent and imagination that exists amongst London’s huge number of web developers. This decision will now allow innovation and exciting developments to take place in the provision of travel information. Releasing data really does help to release people.


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