In a recent Parliamentary question time the following exchange took place –

“Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Does the new, post-bureaucratic age of transparency extend to a commitment to publish bus and rail timetables in digital format for open public reuse?

Mrs Villiers: We are looking at that issue at the moment. I think there are considerable benefits to be gained from a more open approach to timetabling, and I would be delighted to have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman if he wants to give me further indications of his ideas on this, so that we can ensure we get the maximum benefits for passengers.”

This is of personal interest because over the past 12 months I have had an exchange of communications with a local bus operator. A friend with a disability remarked that she had difficulties with reading some of the local bus timetables of some services she uses frequently.

In her area there are two different operators, either of whose buses she can  use. I visited one operator’s site and the timetables were clearly available in standard and large print PDF’s, which I was then able to extract and put into a folder for her (the large print ones being the main requirement).

I then looked at the other bus operator’s site, which whilst being good didn’t have this same facility. After a few emails and ‘phone calls and an extended period of time I got through to a helpful person who had some responsibility. It turned out that website design and maintenance was done by a third party but was currently being updated. I passed on information about accessibility, W3C guidelines and good examples, which I believe in turn was provided to the developer. What was also provided were A3 colour hard-copies of the timetables, which were duly added to our friends fold of bus timetables.

I believe this was an enlightening experience for all parties. What is does show is that private operators and their web developers may not be as aware of the needs of the need to assist  customers with disabilities as they should be in government. It also indicates a further complication of compiling transport data from deregulated operators, in that it might not be as straight forward as one thinks it should be.

My main concern is that if this exercise is carried out, it is done with consideration for those users with disabilities and without sophisticated IT skills. If you are mashing up transport data, consider all your users please!


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