Today is the day that the minister of the Digital Agenda Alexander De Croo announced to create a law before the summer that will oblige NMBS/SNCB to open up their data.
— Digital Belgium (@digitalagendaBE) April 22, 2015
UPDATE: More info on the PSI directive and this tweet can be found here:
Railtime is gone! It was an app which was perceived by many users as an app which offered a better user experience than the official NMBS/SNCB app (an app bought from a German service provider which was adapted for Belgium). The app got shut down in an effort of NMBS/SNCB to streamline its communication channels: “it would be ridiculous to have to maintain 2 apps”.
On this occasion, De Morgen wrote an article. In that article it is not only mentioning the efforts we have been doing, but it also advises its readers two alternatives for RailTime: one being BeTrains (an android app built on top of the iRail API) and the other being RailerApp (an iphone app built on top the iRail API). Couldn’t be more proud! In each case, it caused Railer installs to skyrocket:
De Morgen concluded that we need to strive for Open Data. Something we have been asking since 2010. With the press agreeing, minister Galant agreeing (cfr. her policy note 2015 in which she mentions open data) and our API which now handles an est. average of 300.000 requests per day, we hope that the NMBS/SNCB will take steps into opening up the data we value. In each case, we will be keeping a close eye on our mailbox.
With RailTime disappearing, we got a lot of questions whether the API would keep working. We answered these questions with a clear and sound “yes”. Yet, we didn’t take into account that the API endpoint providing information about specific trains used to work on top of the railtime mobile website instead of the NMBS/SNCB’s one (it used not to be able to give this kind of information). Luckily, @brechtvdv saved the day and wrote a new scraper into our code that was left unchanged since 2010. Thank you Brecht!
And fixing the Vehicle info bug wasn’t the only thing @brechtvdv did. He also started working on a The DataTank plug-in for automatically adding GTFS files. This will help start-ups and developers to get started with their own private API on top of data of De Lijn, MIVB/STIB and TEC. The code isn’t perfect yet, so we hope to receive feedback, issues and pull requests from everyone!
In the meantime, we have also done a server migration together with SkyScrapers (they are part of our community for 3 years now and have ever since provided managed hosting). We are now running the last version of ubuntu, which gives us PHP5.4+! This is a huge relief for a lot of our coders: PHP5.4 introduces nicer syntax which was previously unsupported. Furthermore, a lot of composer packages dropped support for PHP5.3 a while ago. With our shiny new servers in place, I have defined a couple of issues which will make contributing to the API a lot easier and painless.
In order to be able to work together as a community more efficiently, we’re now on Gitter. It’s an instant messaging tool which integrates with Github. We hope to talk to you there! Oh, and if you really want to use IRC instead, there is a IRC bridge available at https://irc.gitter.im/
In order to fix all these issues, we’re looking for funding to pay for a team during open Summer of code 2015. Summer of code started out as iRail Summer of code back in 2011. It’s where we provide students with the training to take on open source and/or open data projects. This year we would like to have an iRail team. A team costs €6000. Anyone an idea how to raise such funds? If you’re willing to co-fund these students, please do contact me! pieter@iRail.be
In the past few days, we’ve got a lot of questions whether iRail will keep existing and what the impact of railtime disappearing will be on the iRail webservices.
Answer: iRail will keep existing and will keep publishing realtime data through http://api.irail.be. iRail has already moved away from railtime a while ago.
Last year, at Open Belgium 2014, TEC announced they would be doing Open Data. In May, the first BELTAC format was released, and not much later, we had converted it to GTFS (thanks to OpenOV): the facto standard that the world wide open transport community can use. The reasons were simple: we don’t have the means to follow up on everything: just use the data and that should be the end of it.
This year, we’ve had the honour to welcome TEC again as one of the speakers in our Open Belgium 2015 edition. This year it was different, as the keynote was given by Thomas Hermine from NextRide: a start-up that reuses data from the TEC to create a user-friendly application that indicates when the next bus will pass your stop.
As the only transport company in Belgium not having created an app, TEC still hasn’t a plan to do so. Instead, they are announcing the “TEC approved application” label: you can now apply to have your app listed among the official TEC apps.
Today, TEC is releasing data files. They are not easy to interpret. iRail will soon release an API that makes it easy for all developers to build an app without having to write server-side code. Hopefully, a lot more apps will apply for TEC’s label in the near future!
Open Street Map is a crowd sourced map which can be reused by anyone. You can for example look up the Brussels North station, and see how all bus stops, platforms, railway tracks are shown with a very good precision.
This is not a coincidence. We have a very active Open Street Map Belgium community (just as iRail, it is part of Open Knowledge Belgium), that is working on integrating existing datasets with Open Street Map, and correcting errors when they see them. Polyglot wrote a very nice article which explains better what the workflow is.
If you would like to start reusing the open transport data within Open Street Map for your project, you can always get in touch with the guys at osm.be. A nice place to start is downloading a dump of entire Open Street Map over here: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Planet.osm