Open Transport Founder shortlisted for Digital Technology Award

Details of the 10th Annual ScotlandIS Digital Technology awards has been released today. So we are please to announce that Hayden Sutherland, our Founder & Chair, has been shortlisted in the category of “Unsung Hero Award” for his work on The Open Transport Initiative. The judging panel included experts, champions, and influencers from across the digital technology industry.

The full list of awards and finalists:

Hayden said “I am proud and slightly surprised to have been shortlisted as one of The Unsung Heroes of the ScotlandIS Digital Technology Awards.”

Why does the Transport & Mobility sector need an Open Standard?

There are various parties who would benefit from the adoption of an Open Standard for transport account integration.

Firstly, the customer. Currently, there is no way for an individual to link their online accounts across the different transport providers. As an example, there are 26 different train operators in the UK alone, most with their own online account. Plus the countless bus, tram, river bus, taxi & ride-sharing operators, all with online accounts or apps. Added together it that can pose a lot for the regular traveller to manage.

Secondly, the solution provider/vendor. When they want to build functionality to integrate their product account to another vendor’s, with an open standard they do not have to start from scratch as at least part of the analysis and interface specification has already been done for them. Plus then, when implemented, the integration of successive accounts is a doddle!

Thirdly, larger MaaS (Mobility as a Service) initiatives. Typically implemented on a city-wide or regional basis, these programmes aim to provide a single technical platform and account for managing many different transport services, usually public ones. However, these MaaS platforms don’t allow the customer to manage every transport mode. So what better way to create a wider account footprint than to allow the customer to integrate to those other providers who have also adopted the open transport account standard?

Comparing Transport & Mobility Mode Definitions

As part of the Open Transport Initiative’s work to create our centralised Operator-Info API specification, we also had to create a definition of transport and mobility modes.

Yes, there are other definitions for some modes of transport in different mobility specifications. However none of them covered all the modes of transport a modern mobility ecosystem needs, including both public transit (e.g. bus, rail, subway, etc.) and private (car, cycling, scooter, etc.).

View our 16 defined modes of transport & mobility

We therefore thought it would be useful to those considering adopting the work of The Open Transport Initiative to compare the mode definitions we provide with those provide by other standards bodies.

What other transport standards define modes?

The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is a common format for public transportation schedules and associated geographic information supported by major transit agencies and Google (e.g. for use within Google Maps).
It defines 12 modes of mobility that are used for mass public transportation.

The Mobility Data Specification (MDS) is an open standard originally developed by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) in 2018, it is now governed by the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). It is a standard for two-way integrations between city / regional agencies and transport & mobility providers.
It defines 4 modes of mobility that are used for micro-mobility or vehicle sharing: bicycle, car, scooter and moped.

Note: Neither of these have a definition for walking or other modes needed for a complete joined-up picture of an individual’s door-to-door journey.

The tables shown below give a side-by-side mapping / comparison of each specification’s mode definition.

If anyone would like to consider any additions or changes to these, please see our published amendment process:

Example Use Cases for a Centralised Operator API

We have been asked to provide some example scenarios in which an API designed to our Centralised Operator API Open Standard specification could be used.

Here are a couple:

Example Use Case 1
A transport authority or agency creates an innovation programme and need to provide a definitive list and URLs of all data sources that can be used by 3rd party application developers.
By allowing these developers access to the centralised look-up service, they can:

  1. Find the transport provider (Operator) data source they want
  2. Confirm the mode(s) of transport provided by that provider
  3. Find the URLs of data sources made available by that provider
  4. Find the contact details for that transport provider for access to the data… or
    connect to it straight away (if it is a public source)

Example Use Case 2
A taxi company operating in a region keeps getting requests for vehicle registrations (number plates) for all cars in its fleet – e.g. from developers of local authority systems or Police. So, it publishes this public document as an file on its website, but has been known to move the file location over time (e.g. when it changes its web technology or agency).
By submitting the URL of this file to the centralised look-up service (and updating the URL when they change it), the local authority, police or even any 3rd party developers can find this information without having to contact the taxi company.

If you would like to talk to The Open Transport Initiative about our plans for our Central Operator API, then contact us at:

Plans for our Central Operator-Info API

Back at the beginning of 2020, The Open Transport Initiative launched two different API designs as Open Standards. The first was our Customer-account API: A standard way to facilitate peer-to-peer transport data. This gained a lot of attention and is currently the focus of our drive towards transport data sharing and account interoperability.

The second was our Centralised Operator-info API: A design for a centralised look-up service for all transport providers (Operators), agreed 3rd parties and even Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platforms. This design was updated a few months ago, to aligned it to be a PAS212 (the IoT discoverability standard) reference implementation and be a look-up service for MIPTA (Mobile Interface for Public Transport Assets) asset registry URLs,

We therefore have a plan for turning this API design (and private proof-of-concept that we have been working on – shhhh!!) into a more robust and usable service. This means the development of a fully operational (e.g. populated and reliable) centralised look-up service for the transportation industry.

In simplistic terms, this would a working and scale-able digital equivalent of a reference directory for all modes of transportation and mobility and can be likened to sort codes used for banking or post codes for the Post Office. It could therefore be a complete system-to-system directory that could be used by anyone in the transport and mobility industry who wants to publish or find a source of data, either public or private.

For example – a MaaS Platform developer wants to find key information about the service d by a transport provider (e.g. the number of ticket vending machines they have). The MaaS platform developer will contact the look-up service which will in turn direct them to the correct data location if it was available.

Beyond Open Transport

Open Transport is our pioneering initiative to change the transport and mobility landscape for the benefit of its customers. Using integrated and shared data via open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) we want to create better transport services and improve innovation and competition.

We see the widespread adoption of an Open Standard for customer account interoperability as being an opportunity for transport providers, mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms and their suppliers.

Thus allowing:

  1. customers to easily join-up the data from many different transport providers
  2. customers to use the digital user interface (an app or website) of their choice, not several from different providers at once
  3. new data-driven services to enter the mobility market

But also, Open Transport can potentially provide the means for other services and providers (e.g. smart cities, civtech, finance, energy, etc.) to integrate and interact with a customer’s transport data.

In short, we are not sure we know all the possible future uses for the work we have done. But the possibilities lie beyond the current examples we have even dared to consider so far.

The Open Transport Initiative – Gaining Recognition

Covid-19 has changed the working environment for many people and has definitely changed their approach to spending. Often this is reflected in the corporate world, with a more cautious approach to investment and innovation, as organisations play safe during uncertainty.

This topic is something we have been discussing at the Open Transport Initiative. We have asked ourselves several poignant questions, such as: Should we be changing our approach to transport account interoperability? Should we perhaps wait until ‘the new normal’ settles down before driving mobility data adoption forwards?

But as a team, we have all agreed that our key aim of transport account data interoperability and findability has never been more relevant than now. Recent changes in transportation usage and conditions for travelling, along with reduction in carbon emissions, have created a period of accelerated change. One that can hopefully lead to a better (e.g. more efficient and greener) long-term use of public and private transport.

This was reinforced for us last week when The Open Transport Initiative was shortlisted in the Excellence in Technology and Innovation category for the Scottish Transport Awards.

The Scottish Transport Awards have been running for 18 years. It recognises the efforts and achievements of the Transport Sector across Scotland. There are many admirable programmes who are also shortlisted in these awards. It is therefore great to be named alongside organisations who have been working so hard to drive innovation and excellent in the travel sector.

At any time, this would be a great honour. But to receive this recognition so early in our formation and during a time of uncertainty, is a real achievement for us and all those who have contributed to our work.

Open Transport enables a comprehensive and open MaaS ecosystem

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) needs data for it to work. More specifically it needs data about the transportation purchases and usage of its customers. Therefore having access to a broader and more comprehensive set of mobility data over a decent period of time (and over all modes of transportation) provides a better understanding of the different transportation needs of each of those customers.

In short, MaaS can only be truly successful if it joins up the data from all different transport providers that its customers actually use.

So whether the data comes from rail, bus and subway services or taxis, micro-mobility services and commercial cycle hire schemes… this combined data (using either an aggregated or federated approach to join it all up)… all helps to enable more tailored transport services to be delivered to individuals or supports the ability to better match them to existing services.

Open Transport provides an Open Standard for the interoperability of data in customer transport accounts. It is a free standard that does not have to be restricted just to public transit services. Plus if implemented once, it offers the potential to integrate to any other service that also adopts it.

Open Transport enables a better approach to MaaS

One (and perhaps the foremost) aim of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is to put the travelling customer at the core of the service and offer them tailor-made mobility solutions based on their specific needs.

2 very different approaches:
To do this effectively MaaS requires one of two approaches to customer data:

  1. An aggregated approach:
    The customer needs to have all their mobility data residing in the same place (e.g. a centralised online service). Meaning that every transport provider in that mobility ecosystem then needs to be part of a single MaaS Platform.
  2. A federated approach:
    The customer allows their data residing in a number of different places (e.g. multiple online transport provider accounts) to share enough so that a complete picture of their transportation purchases and usage can be constructed.

To-date most MaaS efforts and initiatives have used the aggregated approach. This typically means a transport authority selects a single vendor for an entire geographic or legislative region and combines each participating transport provider’s data into a single database. The customer therefore has one account to access, view and use all this data.

However, this aggregated approach has several possible down-sides:

  1. The participating transport providers are mainly restricted to public transit services such as rail, bus and subway.
  2. Private operators, such as taxis, micro-mobility services and commercial cycle hire schemes tend not to be included (either because they do not want to be or because the barriers-to-entry are too high)
  3. The participating providers typically do not have a direct relationship with their customers, they are simply part of a wider service.
  4. Any vendor in a monopolistic position of running a large Maas Platform is less likely to innovate or invest in developing their product
  5. The boundary (area of responsibility) of the MaaS platform is restricted by the reach of the transport authority, not by the journeys the customers want to make.

A different approach
Open Transport, by providing a free standard for mobility account interoperability enables a federated approach instead. Transport providers adopting this Open Standard not only mean their customers can integrate a number of different accounts they own, but can then chose to manage this data in the account of their choice (e.g. the one that gives them the most useful or feature-rich experience).

What do you mean FREE?

Open Transport is an initiative that has released two different Open Standards for transport and mobility account interoperability. But one of the most common questions we get asked is about whether our work is really free or not.

Why standards?
Standards are needed with technology, to ensure that more than one developer or vendor can work together on a technical product or solution.

Why Open Standards?
Open Standards are standards that have been made publicly available and that can have various rights to their usage. Their purpose is to ensure that application developers (and therefore their clients) are not locked in to a specific technology or vendor. Open Standards also help make applications more functional (as more than one organisation can develop their ideas in parallel) and interoperable (as more than one product or service can be developed to align to these standards).

But… FREE?
Yes. To ensure that our work has the greatest chance of adoption across the transport and mobility sectors, we have decided that the Open Transport standards are completely free to adopt, by any organisation, transport provider, authority, etc.
There are no conditions or caveats to this, this work can be viewed, downloaded and used by anyone, anywhere.

What do we want in return?
Nothing. Since our aim is uniform and mass adoption of a consistent transport account interoperability standards across the mobility ecosystem, this alone would be sufficient reward for all the work that has been put in.
But if any adopter wanted to credit Open Transport by mention us and this website in their terms & conditions or code, that would be fine too.