Yes, we need open source software and data standards, and here’s how we get them

 

Jeremy Dalton.png

Jeremy Dalton is the principal and founder of Method City Planning. He is a member of the all-volunteer executive board of TravelSpirit Foundation.

This past week Uber began trialling self-driving cars with real customers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one month after the first self-driving taxis debuted in Singapore. Meanwhile, Ford spent $65 million (£50 million) to acquire Chariot – a demand-response commuter vanpool start-up – following Daimler’s earlier acquisition of two technology start-ups – transport options aggregator Ridescout and mobile transit-ticketing platform GlobeSherpa. Daimler subsequently merged the two under a new subsidiary company focused on bringing about “the future of urban mobility”. A future based on choices; a multitude of options at your fingertips.

The right ride at the right time for the right purpose.

This future will surely be great for many, particularly those of us who live in large cities, are ambulatory, and have the means to pay a premium for exciting new services. But as we in community transport know all too well, the world of privately-funded, city-centric innovation often leaves many people behind. We need to continue the widespread adoption of open data standards and public availability of effective and affordable technology to ensure that this exciting future works for all users.

Many others have laid out the role that open data standards and open source software can play in helping to improve transportation, including transit, community transport, and mobility management. On this very blog, James Coe, Policy and Public Affairs Executive for CTA wrote about the ways that transport planners and community transport operators benefit from freely available data (you can read his excellent post here).

Thankfully, there are a handful of examples from around the world of passionate people working to implement, iterate, and improve these sorts of tools for community transport providers and riders. GTFS – the transit data feed specification that allows transit systems to be included in travel applications like Google Maps and OpenTripPlanner – has been adopted by hundreds of transit operators from every continent. In the US there are pilot projects underway testing an adaptation called GTFS-Flex, designed for demand-response transport operating over service areas instead of fixed routes. And later this year a research team sponsored by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies will seek to develop new data specifications for demand-response transport transactions.

But perhaps the most exciting effort is happening here in Manchester, with the June launch of TravelSpirit.

We need to continue the widespread adoption of open data standards and effective and affordable technology to ensure that the exciting future of transport works for all users.

If you haven’t already heard about TravelSpirit let me be the first to introduce you. The folks at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) took a hard look at the changing landscape of human transport and saw a crossroads ahead: either sit back and let the likes of Uber and Tesla usher in an era of seamless mobility-on-demand for the elite and lucky, or get involved in shaping that future to better serve all users, regardless of means, age, ability, or location.

TravelSpirit represents two major steps towards seeing that future come to pass.

First, it establishes a platform for cross-pollination between transport providers, developers, and policy-makers, to identify, build, and implement tools that meet the needs of users and service providers. These include a growing calendar of community design workshops, hackouts, and idea exchange events, and the creation of a new online community hub for projects. Second, the TravelSpirit foundation provides fiduciary and marketing capacity to help open source transport solutions find wider applications (UK and international).

The first software project taken up by the TravelSpirit foundation should be of great interest to many CTA members. RidePilot is a lightweight, open source scheduling and dispatch platform, designed to fill the gap between ad hoc spreadsheet-based systems and big, expensive, and proprietary options like RouteMatch and Trapeze. RidePilot was created by Ride Connection, a nonprofit community transport provider based in Portland, Oregon, who recognised the need for a simple, affordable, and scalable alternative for communities where transport is provided by a network of small operators. Providers in these networks often lack the infrastructure or resources required to keep up with growing demand for greater coordination and more detailed reporting.

RidePilot has already been adopted and expanded by the Utah Transit Authority. By partnering with TravelSpirit, Ride Connection hopes to foster a robust international community of RidePilot users that all benefit from each new enhancement and added feature. With the latest code for RidePilot freely available through TravelSpirit, CTA members may find that the platform could strengthen their own operations, by improving on-time performance and service-level reporting.

Since just a few short months ago, TravelSpirit has rapidly grown beyond the UK’s borders, with partners across Europe and the United States. If you have an open source project that you would like to share, or if you wish to learn about becoming a TravelSpirit partner, visit travelspirit.io or contact me at jeremy@method.city.

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