London commuters will soon get tube information direct to their mobile phones after TfL restored its data feed
Transport for London (TfL) has made its real-time tube travel information available to mobile application developers, six months after it suspended the service.
TfL has updated the Developers Area on its own website so that it now contains Trackernet, which is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. Tackernet will provide free travel information for mobile application (apps) developers, and will allow them to create applications for mobile and other devices for use by the public.
Data feeds include the locations of trains, their destinations, signal aspects and the status of individual trains at any given time. Also provided is information on the location of cycle hire docking stations, timetable data and real time traffic and roadworks information along the entire TfL transport network in and around London.
Six Month Suspension
TfL had previously suspended access to its London Underground live data feed on 2 July after it was swamped by “overwhelming demand by apps.” It had opened the data feed to developers in mid June, but the sheer volume of traffic overwhelmed it.
At that time, a TfL spokesperson told eWEEK Europe UK that the service would only be down on a temporary basis, and they hoped to restore service in two days.
However it has taken six months to restore the service using Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform. So why the delay?
“In short, the demand in July was overwhelming,” a TfL spokesperson told eWEEK Europe UK on Thursday. “We then spent months exploring other avenues in order to find the right solution. We realised we needed a cloud service to host Trackernet.”
Scaleable Cloud Server
“The reason for this is a cloud server is scaleable and is able to cope with varying demand,” said the spokesperson. “For example, the recent snow conditions saw a massive rise in visits to our website from people looking for travel information. Now, if developers want to plug into this API, the cloud platform will be able to cope with this demand.”
“We are committed to making our data as open as possible. It is incredibly important that our passengers can access the travel information they need,” the spokesperson added. “All our information in the developers area is available free of change to developers. This information is also available free of charge to passengers via our website and at the stations themselves.”
“Today we have some great news to announce as Transport for London (TfL) has taken to the cloud by moving their new Trackernet data feed – hosted within their Developers’ Area – to the Microsoft Windows Azure platform,” said Microsoft in a blog post.
“The platform is resilient enough to handle several million requests per day and will enable TfL to make other feeds available in the future via the same mechanism, at a sustainable cost.”
“This is great news for TfL passengers,” said Chris MacLeod, TfL’s Director of Group Marketing. “ We are committed to making travel information available to passengers how and when they want it. Trackernet – which will lead to some new apps and which many developers have already tested for themselves – is a great example of how TfL is using new technologies to provide better travel tools for public transport users.”
“TfL asked for a system able to handle in excess of seven million requests per day, as well as being able to scale to handle unpredictable events like snow days,” explained Mark Taylor, Director of DPE at Microsoft UK. “Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, Windows Azure is ideal for this kind of task and provides a great basis for the programme of innovations that TfL has planned over the coming years, such as Trackernet. We look forward to continuing to work with TfL and other organisations seeking a secure, trusted cloud computing experience.
TfL is certainly keen to get more technology installed in London’s transport system. For example back in October, passengers were offered the prospect of being able to surf the web whilst using the London Undergrond, after BT announced a Wi-Fi trial at Charing Cross tube station.
And Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London has previously pledged full Wi-Fi coverage for the whole of London. In June this year, Johnson also said that Wi-Fi access plans would include bus stops and the London Underground.