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NSW government releases Sydney public transport dataset

The state's transport authority has published a two-week snapshot of data pulled from the Opal smartcard ticketing system.

The New South Wales government has published data from the state's contactless smartcard public transport ticketing system, which provides a snapshot of how many people travel where, and at what time.

Managed by the state government's transport authority Transport for NSW, the Opal card requires commuters to "tap on" when beginning a trip via bus, train, light rail, and ferry, and "tap off" when they reach their final destination on services operating in Sydney and many of its surrounding suburbs.

The data, collected during two one-week periods in July and August 2016, provides information on how many customers tapped on and off, as well as when they arrived at and/or left their destination.

"Transport for NSW is a leader in open space data, which has been used to great effect in innovation and smartphone apps," deputy secretary customer services Tony Braxton-Smith said. "Opal data has long been one of our most requested and most useful datasets. Now it's available, it means researchers and developers can access and use the data like never before to innovate and gain insights for a huge variety of benefits for customers and organisations."

The de-identified dataset was developed in partnership with Data61 and is available from the Open Data Hub and Developer Portal.

Braxton-Smith expects business owners to use the data to determine opening hours and staff numbers, as one example.

"Let's say someone plans to open a business near a train station and wants to establish the best times to be ready to serve customers from this source. What was once an anecdotal, trial-and-error process can now be backed up by hard data, which could help them succeed in their business," he said in a statement.

"The open data gives a detailed view of when passengers are arriving at or leaving the station, which could also help local councils, government authorities, and service providers to better plan local works and services provision in the neighbourhood."

The Future Transport Open Data team behind the initiative worked closely with the University of Technology Sydney, as well as the NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC).

The DAC was first announced in 2015 by Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, cum Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello, who touted the initiative as the benchmark for driving change within government departments.

The DAC has been promoted since day one by the minister with the catchphrase that data is one of the greatest assets held by government when it is not buried away in bureaucracy.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a Bill that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data; and announced the addition of a chief information and digital officer to drive the state government's digital agenda.

In August, Transport for NSW announced it would be leveraging Opal travel data to indicate the volume of people travelling on a particular bus service, letting commuters know how full their next bus is before it arrives.

Commuters in NSW can also receive personalised messages through Twitter that inform them of disruptions on the state's suburban and intercity train lines.

The state government said previously it was also looking into extending the functionality of the Opal card to become a payment platform for all transport related costs across the state, possibly including road tolls and taxis.

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 Opal 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.

It was revealed at the time that Transport for NSW keeps personal information on passengers for seven years.