© Christoph H. Brenei, Wiener Linien, APA


Vienna Transport Authority Unwilling to Share Data

The application for the iPhone is called "Wann" and shows departure times for buses, trams and the metro in the user`s vicinity. "`Wann` checks where you are and then shows you all relevant departure times," it says in the description of the smartphone app that was created by Vienna developer Patrick Wolowicz. The information is sorted by distance, and the walking time to the next stop or station is also calculated.

But "Wann" can`t be used yet. At least not in Vienna. Unlike in Linz, where Linz AG Linien has provided timetable information for some time and intends to begin offering real time data over a documented interface soon, developers in Vienna have no access to data from the city`s public transportation system. The city of Vienna has been following a highly respected and internationally acclaimed policy for the disclosure of public data since May 2011. But the Vienna Transport Authority has not gotten on board yet. Timetable and real time data can currently only be used for the qando app, which was commissioned by the company.

Valuable raw material
Developers have been requesting access to data from the Viennese public transportation operators for years. But without success. In a

, 90 percent of developers said that they could imagine using transportation system data to create apps. This would especially be a benefit for public transportation users. But transport operators would also profit, because since the apps are provided by third parties, they would incur no costs for this software aside from the costs of delivering the data.

Many different applications
The Vienna Transport Authority`s qando app already covers many uses, said "Wann"  developer Wolowicz. But if the data was released, apps could be created to cover uses that qando cannot address. "You would think that the Vienna Transport Authority would be interested in allowing its paying customers to use system information in different simple and practical ways," said developer Pepi Zawodsky, who has requested access to real time data for the Vienna public transportation system multiple times. "We are being prevented from publishing apps that customers want to have because we are not allowed to use the data."

At present, the Vienna Transport Authority only releases stop and station information. But this information does not indicate what lines depart from these stops and stations. "That is not really useful," said developer Wolowicz.

Developers want real time data from the Vienna public transportation system.


Vienna Transport Authority:"We are very cautious"
"We are very cautious, because real time data is closely tied to our operations," Vienna Transport Authority spokesperson Dominik Gries told futurezone. Operating data is very sensitive for transport providers, and extremely important. "When there are problems with the data, it is the Vienna Transport Authority`s fault," Gries said: "That has a strong impact on our image."

When the US provider Google was temporarily allowed to access timetable data in a pilot test for its Google Maps service during the European football championships in Vienna, the most recent information was not always shown. According to Gries, timetable changes were not adopted: "When the data is not provided correctly or changes are not taken into account, the users are frustrated with us."

But Gries said that the release of real time data under the Viennese open data initiative could be the end point of a process. "We know that the desire is there, and are engaged in a dialog with the community." Representatives of the Vienna Transport Authority have addressed questions from the community several times already at Vienna open government data meetings.

Create camp in January
A create camp is planned at the offices of the Vienna Transport Authority on January 12 and 13 during which participants will be given access to a new real time data platform for the public transportation system for one weekend. During this time, they will be able to access information including departure times, service interruptions and elevators that are out of service. "We are looking forward to seeing prototypes, projects and ideas based on the data we provide," it says on the create camp website, which is being held in cooperation with Open3, an association for the promotion of open data in Austria.

"Data release not desired at this time"
According to Gries, possible applications are to be examined in a secure and controllable environment at the create camp. But developers should not hope for more: "At present, the Vienna Transport Authority does not desire to release real time data."

Developer Wolowicz, whose "Wann" app can currently be tested on request, will still have to wait before he can publish the app with transport information for Vienna. He is pleased that the Vienna Transport Authority is offering a create camp. Developers can prepare their apps after they get a look at the real time data platform. "I hope that the Vienna Transport Authority recognizes the benefits that releasing the data soon will bring them and their customers," said Wolowicz.

Screenshot of the iPhone app "Wann", which uses timetable data from Linz AG Linien.



Linz is different
Linz shows what developers can do with timetable and real time data. Since timetable data was released by Linz AG in October 2011, seven applications have already been created that use this information. These include the route planner Lilli and the Öffliner application. Some of them make use of real time data from the transport operator, which is currently only provided on an unofficial basis. The real time data will be officially released in the next few weeks, said Egon Pischinger from the department of IT and telematics at Linz AG Linien. The goal is to expand information services for passengers as much as possible. "The data from Linz AG is being used to create apps that provide direct benefits to the residents of Linz and that help daily planning," said Stefan Pawel, project head for the Open Commons Region Linz.

"Release next year"
The dialog with developers as part of a create camp is "very good and important," said Johann Mittheisz, Vienna`s chief information officer for the open data initiative: "Real time data opens up new possibilities." Mittheisz said that the create camp is a good step in the right direction: "I am confident that the Vienna Transport Authority will release the data next year."

If things do not work out in Vienna, Wolowicz said he will offer his "Wann" app internationally. "I can use information from San Francisco or London without problems, because it has been released as open data." And he will be able to offer his app for Linz soon: "It is ironic that `Wann` was developed in Vienna but is being launched in Linz."

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