Google's secret window

A lobby group is crying foul over Internet giant Google’s exclusive use of Melbourne’s public timetable information

Google's secret window
Google’s secret window

September 2, 2011

A public transport lobby group claims a ‘secret’ deal has been struck between Victoria’s Department of Transport and internet giant Google, given exclusive access to official timetable data for a global computer and smartphone application.

Melbourne-based Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) recently became aware of the Department’s move to hand Google public transport time and route information, but is concerned that the same information is not freely available to other internet developers.

PTUA President Daniel Bowen says Google Transit had timetable data for over four hundred cities around the world including Perth and Adelaide, making public transport trips easier to plan.

"Adding Melbourne’s timetables to Google Transit will be very welcome, but otherwise the Government is treating public transport timetables as though they were a state secret," Bowen says.

"This information ultimately belongs to the public and should be freely available to anyone who has an interest in using such data."

Bowen says the PTUA made the suggestion to include Melbourne in Google Transit a few years ago, and the Department of Transport has now acted.

"At last, it seems it will eventually happen," Bowen says.

"When it finally arrives, it will be a big plus to passengers."

But Bowen says public transport timetable data should be made freely available for other software developers to use – not just to Google.

"Getting the information out there is a way of better promoting public transport, particularly to gadget-loving passengers who would be only too happy to give up carrying paper timetables in favour of checking schedules on their phone or iPad," he says.

Bowen says Metlink’s TransNet database, which contains timetable and station/stop information for Victoria was publicly available for a short time in 2010 as part of the ‘App My State’ application.

He says the data has since been removed from the Victorian Government’s website.

"Public transport authorities should be helping spread information about their services whether it be providing it for Google Transit or simply releasing the data publicly for software developers to use," Bowen says.

The PTUA is calling for the full database to be released publicly, along with regular updates.

Bowen insists the data should be made available under a non-restrictive license such as Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia, which applies to other data released by the Victorian Government.

"There are developers out there who would like access to this data," he says.

"If someone else can come up with a better app than Metlink or the Government to help more people make better use of public transport, then so be it."

Bowen says unofficial timetable software such as Train Trapper and Tram Hunter for Android phones were examples of public transport applications on platforms that had until recently been ignored by Metlink and the operators.

"But because these developers have to trawl the timetable data from unofficial sources, its accuracy can’t be guaranteed," he says.

According to Bowen, the Victorian Government has supported the release of public sector information for re-use with the expectation it will lead to increased commercial activity.

He says providing primary data to researchers in a wide range of disciplines also increases the government’s transparency.

"Public transport is paid for by tax payers and passengers," Bowen says.

"This data belongs to the people of Victoria, and the users of our public transport system."

He says the data should not be locked away in a ‘secret filing cabinet’ inside the Department of Transport.

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