Omnibus works to solve open fares data conundrum

Software supplier has worked closely with Traveline Cymru to bring fares data to Welsh bus users alongside other developments.

Omnibus has worked closely with Traveline Cymru to develop an innovative process for handling fare data and cross-referencing it with timetable data.

It follows close working between the software specialist, Traveline Cymru and SilverRail.

Jo Foxall is the operations director at Traveline Cymru

The result is that bus passengers in Wales can now access detailed information about bus fares using the Traveline Cymru service via its contact centre, website and apps for iPhone and Android smartphones.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that handling fare data is highly complex for many reasons with thousands of individual fares across Wales. Operators can also be understandably wary of publishing data as fares can change frequently, meaning the information can quickly go out of date, and there may be issues with commercial sensitivity.

An added complication is the wide variety of ticket machines in use that manage fare data, each one with its own data exchange format. To add to the complexities, fare data is often managed by different staff and not always cross-referenced to timetables, so different bus stop codes or names are used in the different systems.

“It was always seen as something that was intensely difficult to do,” explains Jo Foxall, Traveline Cymru’s Operations Director. “The big issue was just how would we keep the data up-to-date as there is no legal process that requires operators to provide the information. Luckily we have very close relationships with the operators and we worked hard to build those bridges.”

While the larger operators were able to use electronic systems to transfer their fares data to Traveline Cymru, some of the smaller operators relied on paper-based systems to record their fares data.

Foxall admits that this disparity in methods to transfer information was something of a challenge. However, Omnibus worked closely with both Traveline Cymru, an organisation called Change++ and the operators to create a system that ‘reads’ fares data from the wide variety of electronic ticket machine systems deployed by Welsh operators.

Meanwhile, a special software tool was constructed that aims to harmonise those potential issues created by the disparity between locations and fare stages. It is a move that exploits the talents of Omnibus, which is the UK’s leading supplier of operational software to the passenger transport industry and backed up by more than 25 years’ experience in providing public transport operators and local authorities with systems that meet their needs.

“It has been a lengthy and complex process, but the feedback from service users has been extremely positive,” says Foxall. “It’s not that long ago that our contact centre were using bound hard copy files of fare tables; now it’s available on screen.

“The relationship with Omnibus has also been particularly rewarding as they have been extremely responsive to our needs and requirements. If we have any issues we just need to pick up the phone and they are on the case.”

This article first appeared Passenger Transport’s special Buses in Wales publication in 2017.