Archived: Why a new website but no app? Part 1

A question we’ve been asked many times when gathering feedback on our new website is when we’ll develop smartphone apps for travel tools such as Journey Planner, maps, bus and Tube arrivals and service status.

What many people don’t realise is that, while we don’t provide a smartphone app ourselves, we provide all the data that powers the 200 or so apps which are already available.

Open Data Apps
Our ‘open data’ approach means that our data is already used to power around 200 apps

We open up access to Journey Planner, live Tube status, bus arrivals, route geometry, station and stop locations and much more under our ‘open data’ approach, which means we don’t charge anything for its use and we place as few restrictions as possible on developers who wish to use it.

Over the past few years there have been over 5,000 registered developers working on our data, creating hundreds of smartphone apps used by millions of customers.

Why open data?
• It’s public data – as a public body, our data is publically owned.
• To extend reach – ensuring as many people as possible have the widest possible access to travel information.
• For best use of the transport network – enabling choice of the most effective journeys.
• Economic benefit – the small companies who make apps with our data generate highly skilled jobs and wealth.
• Innovation – thousands of developers work on designing and building apps with our data, meaning great innovation emerges.

A Deloitte study for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills estimates the annual value of time saved through our open data at up to £58m, this on an annual spend of less than £1m.

Why do a website then?
We know that many people like to come to the source of information, rather than deal with a third party. We also want to offer a service which can be accessed by anyone on any device. Apps do not allow for this and the market is unlikely to ever deliver a website like TfL’s.

New Site
Our new website will be a comprehensive source of all TfL data and will meet huge demand

The fact that the number of people visiting our websites continues to increase year on year indicates there is still a demand for them, despite the massive growth in apps. Last year we served over 70m unique users around 1.2bn page views in 250m visits – more than ever before.

Those developing for commercial purposes generally ‘cherry pick’ the easy stuff that will sell their app, so apps are rarely comprehensive. Without having our own website much of the information we hold about the vast range of TfL’s services and development activity would not be represented online at all.

In the longer term we’ll be developing personalised services which will interact with a single customer account. To do this we need a relationship directly with customers, not through third parties.  We would use the website for this, but we’ve also not ruled out providing apps where it might make sense from a customer relationship point of view.

For now though there’s a wide range of apps and our new site to choose from.  So there’s no reason not to have great travel information on your mobile.


  1. With installable Open Web Apps (aka install a website to your device – it’s possible to have our cake and eat it: with both the advantages of a design-once responsive design standard website that can be used across a wide range of devices, and then for devices that support the Open Web Apps (currently Firefox for Android, Firefox on all desktop OSes & FirefoxOS… but this list should grow in the future) you get the advantages of things like offline access (for a subset of TFL site features at least; and even for those that cannot be used offline, you get a perf increase on bandwidth constrained devices) + ‘app’ icons on homescreens etc – all with minimal code changes required (

  2. Of the tfl related apps around city mapper is in my opinion the most useful. It would help immensely however if it had an accessibility side to its awesome route planning. Giving step free routes.

  3. I really disapprove of a giant advertisement at the top of the page in the middle of the journey planner window. Really cheap and cheesy, and takes away from the class of what should be a public service.

    1. Hi Joey. I’m sorry you don’t like the ads. We’re doing this to offset the cost of running the service and approaching it with a great deal of thought. I hope you will find over time there are products and services featured which interest you and don’t get in the way of the tasks you want to do. The ‘hero’ ads will not run all of the time as we have our own messages to promote about transport and London in general.

      We’ve actually been running ads on the existing site for many years with very few issues, so while it may take a bit of time to get used to we don’t envisage any major problems from a user perspective.

      The large ads reduce right down on a mobile, where screen space is at a premium.

  4. A really brilliant stance taken by TfL – open, public data is the way to go and fostering a ecosystem of small developers is fantastic. Well done, and on ‘minding the gap’ with a website where no paid interest could supply the site and servers for free.

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  6. It’s foolish because you have millions of visitors in your website as becouse people doesn’t have a choice of using app. They don’t like to use the third party app because they prefer to have the information from the reliable source. Therefore I is essential for people to have a sophisticated app developed by tfl which make people’s search easier.

  7. Hi Phil, I am just staying in London for a few days as a tourist. With disappointment I read your article. At least it would be very nice if you could give some recommendations which apps are good to use while in London. Thank you in advance. Kind regards from Switzerland.

    1. Exactly! The last time I installed 10 apps by looking at those having the best reviews and they were all far from being useful. It was just a waste of time.

      1. Lorenzo, thanks for your comment. With over 360 apps available there is a huge amount of choice. I understand that some customers would like us to provide an app directly and this is an area we keep under review. I’m sure with a little trial and error, or perhaps recommendations from friends, you can find an app which suits you from the large range available. Our sister organisation Visit London have some recommendations here Which? have their recommendations at and there are many other ‘top 10’ lists available through an internet search. We would advise checking the detailed description of app features and their ratings before downloading.

  8. The problem with giving data that is used by 200 apps, is that we have no way of knowing which are good, bad, scams, data gatherers, or what. Just because they use one of your trademarks doesn’t mean that they’re safe or legal or effective.

  9. Hi Phil,

    A little late to this post but I was wondering if there are any plans underway to provide an API to allow access to user account information, namely Oyster Card accounts.

    I’m looking at developing an Android App in my spare time and would rather avoid scraping the HTML webpage if there are plans for a more well defined API about.



  10. your logic for not having APP is flawed here. The APP should be the pinnacle for moving people around London. If your task/statement is to move people around the city in the most efficient way you need to have your own APP. This APP should be the compass for any Londoner before he/she makes a move. All your buses and tubes and bicycles should be there just to support this app. And also this app would make it easier for you to get instant feedback.

  11. An official, simple, reliable and functional app should definitely be offered to the customers. While this is a great concept and a number app developers/firms on iOS and Android have done a great job – Open Data offers no guarantees about the in-time accuracy of the information being provided to the end users.

    1. Agree 100%. There seems to be some political/ideological agenda behind this refusal by Tfl. It may be as simple (and as misguided) as a belief that since a paltry economy along these lines can be made it should be made. I only wish were as committed to openness when it comes to their reasoning as to the data itself.

      By its nature, in 2015 most Londoners are going to want easy, reliable access, with no security concerns, to this data on the move through their phones – meaning that a mobile app should be of higher priority than a website. A bit of clarity of reasoning please Tfl.

  12. This sounds like total obsfucation. National Rail have an app. Some local councils do. This public data has value. Does “Open data” means you allow private businesses to profit from a public asset, without paying a fair share of the cost? It sounds like a classic example of privatising the profits, whilst nationalising the costs. What we want is a free, ad free, comprehensive app from tfl.

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  14. All the “free”apps are garbage! I couldn’t believe when I realized that! How is it possible that in the 21st century, when we have apps with the sole purpose of making retarded sound effects, that there is no official TfL timetable app? It boggles my mind…

  15. Good that you are willing to explain the thinking behind this decision, but it’s completely wrong in my view. TfL should not be prioritising the interests of the third party app development community over the needs of customers to get accurate and secure information while on the move. Take Oyster for example, I can’t think of any other major service provider that doesn’t have an app for managing an account. All in the name of helping independent app development companies – since when was that a stated goal of TfL and a priority for its millions of customers? Amazing but true.

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