Another round of #phantombuses due to traffic gridlock

A large number of commuters were left staring at bus stop Real Time Information screens and mobile phone apps as the traffic came to a grinding halt this afternoon.

About an hour later it was confirmed by the National Express twitter updates that there has been a gridlock in the city with the emergency landing of an air ambulance near the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.



Despite repeated attempts, there were no comments or confirmation available from the West Midlands Ambulance Service press office on this. Here is what commuters said on twitter:  

Most of the tweets and pictures today afternoon were sent by Lois Stanley, a commuter who has been a part of the crowd sources #phantombuses initiative for two weeks now.

Why Network West Midlands should open up their raw data for bus timings

By Simon Whitehouse

Network West Midlands are currently promoting the different ways that they make their real-time bus information available.

It includes …”On Street displays, Bus station/Interchange Displays, Interactive Totems, Interactive Kiosks, Mobile Applications, Website applications and the SMS Service “Text Time”

screengrab from bus time app

What it still doesn’t appear to include is the raw data in real-time provided in a way that allows developers to create their own applications from it.

It would be so much better if they chose to do this, for a number of reasons.

1. The opportunity to reach people through different channel and platforms

By making the data available it makes it possible for somebody else to come along and build a better application, website or SMS service than the one that NWM already have.

It’s also a lot more likely that people will build travel applications that work on a wider variety of devices.

For instance, initially there was just an Android version of the mobile travel app. There is now an iPhone version, but NWM probably had to wait for more money and/or resources to develop that.

When Transport for London released their transport data it was quickly followed by a proliferation of applications across every platform you can think of. One developer, Adrian Short, created a travel application that only works on the Unix command line.

It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect Transport for London to have developed, but, it’s useful to Adrian, and to the 33 people that downloaded it in the first month after he released it.

I’ve long thought that it would be possible to integrate a real-time public transport widget in venue websites. That’s simply not possible without a reusable raw data feed.

2. You can concentrate on getting the data right

The more that other people are using your data to create their own applications the more time you can spend on making sure that your data is accurate and reusable.

The Open Data Institute hosted company Placr have been set up to create “a single UK source of transport information by unification of timetable, live departure and disruption information for bus, rail, metro and ferry services.” They provide an api at

When UK companies like Placr are creating these services, and Google Maps are providing national coverage of public transport services, Network West Midlands should put their effort into getting the data right those services access more useful rather than concentrating on developing their own applications.

3. You can’t think of everything

Then there are the slightly more playful uses of transport data that becomes possible when you are more open with your content.

Chromorama is a game developed by Mudlark. It takes people’s travel data from their Oyster Card accounts and “makes it into a game where every journey counts in a competition for the city”.

You get more points the more you vary your journey, the idea being that the game “encourages people to make new journeys and use public transport in a different way by exploring new areas and potentially using different modes of public transport.”