Interview Trafiklab: standardised data as key for innovation in public transport

DATA4PT supports EU Member States in deploying European public data standards (Transmodel, NeTEx and SIRI) to enable union-wide multimodal travel information services. But, what are the advantages of deploying such standards, and what are the hurdles? DATA4PT sat down with Trafiklab, an open platform for innovation in Swedish public transport, and spoke to Technical lead Bert Marcelis about the need of standardised data to enable new smart mobility services, their experience with NeTEx, and how projects such as DATA4PT can provide support.

Can you tell us a bit more about Trafiklab?

Trafiklab is a service developed and managed by Samtrafiken on behalf of the 21 regional public transport authorities in Sweden and the additional commercial rail and bus operators. In total we have around 58 partners. Trafiklab, as a hub, provides all public transport data to the National Access Point (NAP) for Multimodal Trafic.

In Trafiklab developers can access data and APIs from public transport in Sweden; information needed to develop smart services that benefit travelers and society. Public transport data is available in both static and dynamic formats, and it is continuously updated.

Several collaborations take place through Trafiklab with various actors both within and outside the public transport industry. The purpose is to benefit open data-based innovation in the mobility sector.

Can you share with us how Trafiklab uses standardised data formats?

We are constantly working with opening up more data sources and improving the existing ones. Our operation is based on an agreement with all our partners and providing different services for them. One of their shared needs is to have data publicly available in certain formats so it can be shown on e.g. Google Maps and Apple Maps. They send us the data and we convert it to needed standards.

We see that NOPTIS (Nordic Public Transport Interface Standard) is the de facto standard data format for many Swedish PTAs, which is based on Transmodel data model, developed by the PTAs before the NeTEx data format was available.

Regarding NeTEx, it was logical to also implement this data standard. Therefore, from the same data platform we also implemented a NeTEx export, so that all our partners and owners  automatically fulfil the data requirements in this format.

Samtrafiken is currently developing a National Distribution Service (NDS) for public transport tickets connecting to all operators in Sweden. The service will be available to parties who wants to resell combined travels in Sweden. All data that will be needed to perform travel searches by these parties will be made available through NeTEx.

How do you believe NeTEx and SIRI can further support the development of such products that foster Multimodal mobility across regions and countries?  

Naturally, using the same standard will open new possibilities for cross border travelling. The NDS will provide easy access to combined travels across all regions in Sweden with public transport. The next natural step would be for other Multimodal services to connect with the NDS to create new combinations. With the NDS as a national platform we will also create a base for further development of customer focused services to handle e.g. traffic disruptions with real time information utilizing SIRI data.

But traffic information alone won’t solve the needs for a true multimodal mobility service. A standard for digital ticketing is also needed. Therefore, we’re participating in EUs CoRoM project to develop a Transmodel based standard for ticketing bringing our experience from the current standards OSDM (booking standard) and BoB (ticketing standard for unbooked travels).

Can you name some examples of how NeTEx data are used currently?

We see for example the request for NeTEx data with one of our customers, an international bus company. They want to deliver NeTEx data to us, as they want to deliver the same data to multiple countries.

Another entity who is keen to use NeTEx data is ENTUR, a government-owned transportation company in Norway. We have a NeTEx file for the entirety of Sweden, it would be optimal for them to import it to link Swedish and Norwegian data.

Furthermore, we work for companies that are working on combined ticketing services: these industrial players are also requesting NeTEx data to facilitate the development of these innovative services.

For the rest, we see limited delivery of NeTEx data among our customers: they come to us to create this NeTEx data for them.

What recommendations can you give to us to advance the uptake of harmonised data standards across Europe?

As a developer, definitely to advance clear public documentation. Standardised data is key advance public transport: this why platforms such as Trafiklab exists and why we see such a strong collaboration between PTAs and PTOs. Currently, documentation is fragmented and sometimes hard to access it.

We see that the GTFS data specification is still most widely used. It’s when our customers need more data than available in the GTFS specification that they actually need the NeTEx file. However, in those cases companies often directly go to the operator for the source data. 

To enable more people to see the benefits of standards such as NeTEx, we need clear guidelines on how to contribute and be actively part of how NeTEx is reviewed and formed, as it seems there is a strong and public procedure to collaborate on this. This is where a project such as DATA4PT can come in.

Moreover, NeTEx is more abstract, leaving too much degrees of freedom of how to be implemented. This fact challenges the interoperability across Europe. Profiles and relevant documentation are necessary.

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