TfL Social Media – Adapting to Twitter’s Changes

Since 2012 we’ve been using Twitter to share ‘live’ transport information, and the platform’s chronological feeds meant we were able to distribute information within minutes of receiving it, with alerts generated by our systems along with the help of our partners, such as the Metropolitan Police.

Our social media teams could be alerted to disruption in a variety of ways, from bus drivers spotting issues and reporting to our LSTCC (London Streets Traffic Control Centre) through to issues triggered by our Tube signalling systems, and we would then get the info tweeted out to our followers as quickly as possible.

Changing timelines on Twitter

Our social media mission remains the same as it ever was, with all our activity designed to empower customers through accurate and timely information, customer service and provision of travel tools.

However, in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers.

Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.

Our teams will continue to work day and night to support customers including First Contact who take care of the Tube line Twitter feeds as well as CentreComm and LSTCC who have access to everything from iBus (our system for tracking London Buses) to police helicopters monitoring London from above.

Manning the Twitter feeds LSTCC
Manning the @TfLBusAlerts Twitter feed in CentreComm. This feed offers travel advice and alerts for major disruption

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Disruptive Technology & Road Transport Event – Register Now

Register now for the Disruptive Technology and Road Transport event, taking place at New London Architecture on Wednesday February 10. 

With London’s population on course to grow to more than 10 million by 2031, it’s never been more important for organisations to understand how to plan for the future. But with so many developments and kickstarters already being worked on, how do businesses work out whether ipads, autonomous vehicles or hoverboards are the future when thinking what the world will look like in 20 years time?

On 10 February, renowned future thinker Greg Lindsay will be holding a presentation and discussion session with London’s Deputy Mayor, Isabel Dedring and TfL’s Ben Plowden, as the centrepiece of the ‘Disruptive Technology and Road Transport’ event being hosted by the New London Architecture.

London’s population is set to grow to more than 10 million by 2031. How will technology shape our lives as we face this challenge?
London’s population is set to grow to more than 10 million by 2031. How will future technology shape our lives as we the city grows at such a rapid pace?

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Improved Roads Open Data – Car Parks & JamCams

In my previous post on Roads Open Data I outlined the importance of providing quality data for London’s roads, particularly at a time when our Road Modernisation Plan is being implemented and we are urging drivers to check for disruption before they travel.

We continue to make improvements to our roads open data, with London Underground live car parking spaces availability now available through the Unified API, as well as live video JamCams that give a far better indication of how traffic is flowing in the Capital.

London Underground car parks

London Underground has over 60 car parks with over 11,000 spaces. With the help of our partners NCP and SmartParking, we have released live data showing available spaces for 25 of these car parks. We are seeing whether we can expand the feed to cover all London Underground car parks in the future.

We don’t have this showing on yet, but we’ve made the feed available as open data in the Unified API so that the dev community can have a head start.

You can get the full list of Car Parks from the Places API, which can also be searched by lat/long bounding box or radius. For each car park, we return information such as the address, opening hours, payment methods and facilities, and in some cases, the live occupancy. In the example below, Barkingside Station car park, the OccupancyUrl is returned, indicating that live data is available.

  "id": "CarParks_800491",
  "url": "",
  "commonName": "Barkingside Stn (LUL)",
  "placeType": "CarPark",
  "additionalProperties": [
    "category": "Description",
    "key": "NumberOfSpaces",
    "sourceSystemKey": "CarParks",
    "value": "46",
    "modified": "2016-01-07T15:45:43.153"
    "category": "Description",
    "key": "NumberOfDisabledBays",
    "sourceSystemKey": "CarParks",
    "value": "2",
    "modified": "2016-01-07T15:45:43.153"
    "category": "Meta",
    "key": "OccupancyUrl",
    "sourceSystemKey": "CarParks",
    "value": "",
    "modified": "2016-01-07T15:45:43.153"

The URL is based on the place id of the car park, for example “CarParks_800491” so if you know the Car Park id, you can go straight to the occupancy data. We use a separate URL because we have a much shorter time-to-live in our cache for the occupancy vs. the place data (60 seconds and 1 day respectively). In the example below, using Barkingside again, we can see that there’s no spaces available right now.

 "id": "CarParks_800491",
 "bays": [
     "bayType": "Disabled",
     "bayCount": 2,
     "free": 0,
     "occupied": 2
     "bayType": "Pay and Display Parking",
     "bayCount": 45,
     "free": 0,
     "occupied": 45
  "name": "Barkingside Stn (LUL)",
  "carParkDetailsUrl": ""

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TfL Online 2015 Review – How “Every Journey Matters”

I get the honour of the final blog post of 2015, and it’s a pleasing one to be able to write as we look back on what the team in TfL Online have achieved during this year.

We started off the year accomplishing one deployment of new code to the website every two weeks, and that’s increased to the point where we’ve now managed our 57th release to the site in 2015. There are a lot of variables and moving parts that we monitor and co-ordinate simultaneously to deliver a safe, quality assured, zero defect, zero outage deployment to the website every single week.

For more detail, see my posts on Blue/Green deployments and Agile continuous delivery in the cloud (in 3 parts).

While we’ve successfully made these 57 separate releases of code, optimisations, reference data refresh, bug fixes, enhancements and new features to, we’ve managed to do all this seamlessly without a single planned maintenance window, so our customers haven’t experienced any down-time at all while we’ve been making these improvements.

So, here’s how we believe we’ve fed into the ‘Every Journey Matters’ ethos:

It matters that you have access to new features and enhancements on the website quickly, so we do this, e.g. WebCat, Roads VMS/disruptions Unified API, Live Bus Arrivals, Integration of TfL Rail & West Anglia, …. to name but a few,
It matters that you have access to new features and enhancements on the website quickly – WebCAT, Roads VMS, Unified API, Live Bus Arrivals, Integration of TfL Rail & West Anglia, to name but a few

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Standardisation in roads open data

This week we have a guest post from Duncan Elder, an Associate with IBI Group and a specialist in transport data, spatial information and customer information systems.

In Part 4 of the series on the Unified API on this blog, Tim discussed TfL’s roads open data and gave guidance on how to build apps using this data. Having worked closely with TfL for some time now, this prompted me to expand upon Tim’s post with a look at a long-standing issue around this kind of data – standardisation.

Whilst it is widely agreed that data held by transport agencies should be made open, there remains a question over how easily this open data can be exchanged and used by various parties. UK public transport agencies have been rather ahead of the curve here, as the exchange of train, bus and tube information is underpinned by the use of standard approaches for describing data, such as exists with NAPTAN and TransXchange, and the equivalents in Europe; Transmodel, IFOPT and NeTex.

This means that in the UK we are used to seeing widely available public transport journey planners and information from a range of different providers, all of which would be unlikely to exist without a standardised approach from the various sources of open data which power these tools.

However, when it comes to roads open data things are much more complex, with the data held by public bodies less centralised, the number of miles of roads much greater than rail, and the number of possible sources of roads data far greater. This includes an increase in the use of crowd-sourced data, in addition to existing sources of road information, which adds to the difficulty in establishing a standardised approach to data provision.

Road data
Open data for roads is a complex proposition, with many more miles of road than rail and a far greater number of possible sources

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Is customer flow data useful to developers?

With a real focus on our Unified API and open data policy in recent months, both on this blog and through the Hackathons and events (such as the Urban Traffic Hackathon a few weeks ago) that TfL staff have been involved with, we’ve received lots of great feedback and questions from the developer community, just as we’d hoped we would.  

One such question that has cropped up many times is one around customer volume and flow data, i.e. how can we help developers create apps that take into account how busy certain lines, stations, platforms, etc are likely to be when customers are planning a journey. 

To provide an update on where we are with this data, TfL’s Data Services Manager Ryan Sweeney offers this summary, and asks for your feedback to help us ensure we’re providing data that is both relevant and useful: 

Queen Mary University
Participants at TfL’s Urban Traffic Data Hackathon, held at Queen Mary University in November.

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Unified API Part 5: AoT – Arrivals of Things

In Part 3 of this series, I gave examples of finding the Routes of Things using the Unified API. This article focusses on the “Arrivals of Things” – how to find out when services are going to arrive on those routes.

As before, all of the API examples in this page are live, however they do not include API authentication tokens. This means that if you follow the link as is, you will be using anonymous access, which is throttled for fair use, so you may get a 403 response. We recommend for your own development that you obtain an “app_key” and “app_id” by registering here. The data in these examples will be in JSON format, so installing a JSON formatter plugin in your browser will help you read the data returned.

Ride on time

Let’s start with the most prominent example of arrivals, shown when viewing a nearby stop:

At this bus stop we can see the time-to-stop of the next services due to arrive.
At this bus stop we can see the time-to-stop of the next services that are due to arrive.

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