​NSW government uses Opal data to give bus passengers a heads up

NSW bus commuters will now be able to tell how full their next bus is thanks to the integration of Opal data within transit apps to deliver real-time information to passengers.

The New South Wales government has announced the availability of data to let bus commuters know how full their next bus is before it arrives.

The first app to make use of the feature, the iOS-only NextThere, uses icons indicate the volume of people travelling on a particular bus service.

According to Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance, delivering such information to customers will enable them to make commuting choices earlier.

"This is yet another way that Opal data can be practical for everyone. This will show users whether their bus is empty, has seating, or is crowded," he said.

"We want to give customers as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. This will be particularly useful for some of the busier routes like the 380 from North Bondi, the 400 from Burwood to Bondi Junction and the M61 from Castle Hill to the city."

The state government expects to provide other existing travel apps such as TripView, Metrarove, Arrivo, and TripGo access to the data as well, believing it can be used to provide additional information for their users.

Earlier this year, Transport for NSW launched the Open Data Hub to give developers access to real-time public transport information.

"By making real-time data sets freely available, the new Open Data Hub will pave the way for app developers across the world to meet a broader range of customer and business needs here in NSW," Constance said at the time.

"We've already had huge success with our popular real-time apps. The applications for this transport data are endless and I can't wait to see more creative thinking about technological solutions to meet the needs of our customers."

In May 2015, Transport for NSW revealed it handed over customer data recorded by the Opal card to NSW Police and the Department of Immigration.

Transport for NSW confirmed to ZDNet at the time that there were 66 requests from NSW Police, and 15 requests from the Department of Immigration for personal data from the Opal card system since December 2014, with 57 disclosures. There were 19 disclosures related to offences, 32 disclosures on reasonable grounds for offences, and six requests related to missing persons.

While the cards do not store data, Transport for NSW keeps personal information, trip history, and other data collected on passengers for seven years.

The new feature is part of the NSW government's Future Transport 12-month program, launched in April, which focuses on looking at how technologies can be used by government and customers to plan, build, and use transport.

Last week as part of the program, Transport for NSW was calling for submissions around ideas on how Bluetooth-enabled beacon technology can be used to improve public transport access.

The Beacon Challenge comes following a separate six-week trial currently under way at Chatswood train station and bus interchange in Sydney, New South Wales, where more than 70 Bluetooth beacons have been installed.

"We're constantly working to find new data to release to app developers so they can deliver innovative products that make catching public transport easier," Constance said.

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