Transport Direct is switched off but transport campaigners argue that private sector alternatives don’t offer a fully comprehensive solution

 

 

The Department for Transport this week switched off Transport Direct, the government’s pioneering online journey planning service, just over 10 years after its controversial launch.

A nationwide journey planning website was first conceived by then deputy prime minister John Prescott in 1999 and its eventual launch in 2004 was widely derided as a white elephant and an example of Whitehall waste.

Since then, it has served more than 160 million travel information requests, as well as helping spectators plan their routes to the London 2012 Olympic Games, but in recent years the site has become largely superfluous with the government working  with transport operators to make timetable data freely available to web developers.

As a result, a number of journey planning websites have emerged, offering similar services to that of Transport Direct with the DfT saying that these sites, such as Google Transit and the route planners offered by the AA and RAC, will take on the site’s role.

The department says that despite the closure, it will also continue to “take an active interest in journey planning”. “The department will also assist others in the provision of comprehensive, accurate travel information services,” it added.

However, the demise of Transport Direct has attracted criticism. Stephen Morris, the deputy chief executive of Bus Users UK, described the journey planner as “absolutely brilliant” and said that it has been invaluable to the travelling public over the last decade. “We’ll be lost without it: literally,” he added.

Meanwhile, Martin Abrams, transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport, warned that the closure of the site will leave a substantial gap in public transport information provision at a time when it felt that the government should be supporting transport companies to open up their data.

He added: “As the DfT’s own strategy emphasises, the technology to give passengers up to date information that enables them to make efficient and sustainable transport choices is readily available – what we need is a commitment from the transport industry to share the information itself.”

CBT said that the decision to close Transport Direct is in stark contrast to the DfT’s Door to Door strategy which was published last year, in which enabling data sharing and providing more comprehensive sources of travel information was a key aim, with Transport Direct the main platform to deliver this to passengers.

As a result, the campaign group has called on the government to support a comprehensive, high quality replacement for Transport Direct, and deliver on its promise to work with information owners to remove restrictions on commercial use of data so that it can be more readily shared.

“There are great examples of travel information apps for specific cities and specific modes of transport – but people will only be able to make properly informed comparisons and choices when they can access integrated information that gets them right from home to destination,” added Abrams.

The switch-off also brought a blunt response from John Prescott. “What the DfT should have done is turn it into an app and promote it,” he said. “Instead of giving you solutions, this is just Google-it government.”

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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