Public Transport’s Journey to Greener World

While on the bus the other day, I happened to notice a sign from the Queensland government, stating that one full bus takes up to 40 cars off the road. That was all. No real information as to what 40 cars off the road means.

For all I knew it could mean one bus could literally ram 40 cars off the road with the sheer force of 50 or more passengers behind it. No car stood a chance with a full bus on the road! Be warned!

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While this was quite the scary thought, and rather turned me away from the idea of riding on the bus again, it got me thinking.

“How does public transport affect the environment? Would it actually help if everyone rode buses, reducing the constant strain of cars spewing their toxic fumes just to deliver one person to their location? Am I helping, or am I hurting our world by my sheer laziness of not getting a license to drive?”

So, I decided to do some research…

Greenhouse gases and climate change are rapidly becoming some of the most talked-about subjects in Australia with up to 73% of people reporting concern over climate change in 2008 [1].

Between the years of 1990 and 2008 in Australia, the annual emissions of greenhouse gases saw a 31% increase, not including the emissions from land use, land use change and forestry [2].

It is believed that these high levels of gases in our atmosphere will begin to affect our climate by causing more heat to be trapped, leading to increased global temperatures, also known as global warming [3].

Julia Gillard’s administration has tried to combat this increase of greenhouse gas emission with the recent unveiling of the carbon tax starting July 2012. The tax will start by charging around 500 companies $23 for each tonne of CO2 they emit [4].

However, large companies aren’t the only producers of greenhouse gases.

The primary producer of greenhouse gas emissions is from stationary energy, such as companies using fossil fuels to provide electricity for homes. This is followed by agriculture, where the gas emissions mainly come from methane gas from animals. And the third largest producer of gas emissions is transport [5].

[5]

Although the gas emissions due to stationary energy and agriculture are hard to change as an individual, transport can easily be affected.

Out of the 13% of greenhouse gas emissions that transport activity adds to the environment, passenger cars are the largest source of the gases, accounting for 53% of the emissions. Buses, however, are the most energy efficient mode of transport per person, followed by heavy rail trains and motorcycles. Passenger cars and ferries are the least energy efficient [5].

There are several benefits to train and bus travel, such as greatly reduced CO2e emissions per person when compared to passenger cars. A full bus also greatly reduces the congestion of roads by removing up to 40 cars from the road – leading to further reduced CO2e emissions [6].

Public transport is also increasing in popularity, as the number of people using public transport for usual trips to work or full-time study has risen in almost every state since 1996 [7] [8].

[5]

Many people still prefer passenger cars over public transport, however. In 2009, 80% of Australians reported using private motor vehicles as their primary method of travel to their work or study, and only 14% used public transport [8].

[8]

When asked why they didn’t use public transport, 52% of people reported either complete lack of services or lack of services at the right time [5].

[5]

Our goal with Transhub is to help make public transport work for everyone, by both simplifying and improving the overall experience. We want to help everyone be able to take part in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using cheap and reliable public transport without any of the hassle usually associated with it.

And with that my research ends. Now I’m left wondering what the ‘other’ section on the third graph for forms of transport means. My leading theory is transport via unicycle. Time to do some more research…

References

1. ABS Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2. National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 2008, PDF

3. Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency – Climate Change Impacts

4. News.com.au – Julia Gillard Unveils Carbon Tax Plans

5. ABS Environment: Issues and Trends, Jan 2010

6. Travelsmart – Travel Alternatives – Public Transport

7. ABS Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, 2006, PDF

8. ABS Environmental Issues: Waste Management and Transport Use, 2009, PDF

Written by Adam Keller on behalf of TransHub

Why Open Data Sharing Is Important

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This week we were able to expand TransHub to 7 cities – now including Canberra. We were able to do this because the dataset for Canberra became available on data.gov.au.

Just over 5 years ago we saw the first campains to “Free Our Data” in the UK. Governments in every country collect and hold a massive amount of data, much of it very useful in our everyday lives, and quite often data you have to pay to get hold of and not necessarily in a particularly useful format. The idea behind this campaign was the Governments should collect the best quality data possible and then make it available for free to all.

In recent years there has been a push for Australian government agencies to make more data available to the public. Since then Data.Gov.Au has been created.

Data.gov.au provides an easy way to find, access and reuse public datasets from the Australian Government and state and territory governments. The main purpose of the site is to encourage public access to and reuse of government data by providing it in useful formats and under open licences.

The great thing about putting up the data so the public can use it, is that developers, businesses and hobbyists can use the data and mash it up in ways that were never before thought of and make useful sites, applications and creations for others to use.

How we’ve used Data.gov.au for TransHub Canberra

To show how powerful publishing data in an open format is I’ll take you through the process we went through of creating TransHub Canberra.

When we created TransHub Sydney, we had thought of expanding and reusing the same idea with other cities. Some minor code changes were made from the original competition entry to allow us to apply to different modes of transport in Australia (an other metric countries). This allowed us to easily apply other datasets that we had at our disposal such as Adelaide, Auckland, Cairns, Perth and Townsville.

In a little over a week we were able to add a whole new set of data through the process:

  • We noticed the Journey Planner Data for the ACT had been made available on Wed night 5/10.
  • By Thursday 6/10 we had made the necessary adjustments and internal testing to prepare TransHub Canberra for Beta Testing.
  • Friday 6/10 we started the Beta and put out a call for Beta testers
  • Friday 14/10 TransHub Canberra is live on the marketplace

How we’ve used Data.gov.au previously

We’ve been a fan of data.gov.au for awhile. This year we were also involved in the Library Hack competition.  We placed 2 entries:

QLD Mosaic

The images are from the State Library of Queensland’s out of copyright photographs from their photograph collection “People and places from across Queensland across time” . Data source is here: http://data.gov.au/dataset/picture-queensland/

The image for the mosaic is NASA’s Blue Marble Imagery cropped to the political boundary of Queensland. The mosaic was created using AndreaMosaic’s 64bit professional version, Photoshop CS5 and DeepZoom tools. It was processed on a Dell dual 6 core Xeon X5680 T5500 Workstation with 24GB Ram. It took just under 7 days to compile the images, mosaic, process, tile and upload to our website. The energy used to power the hardware was offset by our 6KW/h Solar System and the awesome Queensland Sun.

Historical Real Estate Maps

Soul Solutions has taken the State Library of Queensland’s collection of digitized estate maps, advertising new housing estates in Queensland from the early to mid 20th Century. 165 of these have been digitized in the collection that can be found here: http://data.gov.au/dataset/real-estate-maps/

The maps are predominantly from Brisbane but also cover some regional areas of Queensland such as the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

We have chosen to visualise these using an enhanced version of the Microsoft PivotViewer control, from LobsterPot Solutions, that allows us to presents 100’s of things at once and visualise them in a way that can add value by allowing multiple ways to filter and sort the collection and view details and metadata while showing the estate map image in a “zoomable” format.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating the application or you can watch it on YouTube here :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RpauKnxp2w&feature=channel_video_title

What is this GTFS thing anyway?

Many of you have asked us what format we need the data in to be able to use it. There’s a few that are supported by we highly recommend GTFS – General Transit Feed Specification.

GTFS defines a common format for public transport schedules  and associated geographic information. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GTFS

It’s now a format accepted through many apis around the world for public transport data including Bing Maps and Google Transit.

Why don’t we have TransHub Brisbane and TransHub Melbourne?

Our top 2 feature requests for TransHub is to create a version for Brisbane and Melbourne. Many of you have asked why we haven’t done it and why can’t we? Currently neither Brisbane nor Melbourne publish their data publically for application developers to use. If we can’t get to the data we can’t make an application.

As many of you have pointed out we could screen-scrape or crowd source the timetable and station information we really don’t want to go down this path. We’d prefer to encourage the other cities to get on board with the open formats and publish their data so everyone can benefit and do it properly!

Our only thoughts are that public pressure may encourage them to change their minds and follow what the other cities in Australia and the world have done. So keep voting for the feature!

Why is Open Data Sharing important?

In short, let them do what they do best and let us developers develop the best apps possible on their data.

If we just look at phone application developers – there are many different smart phones out there, and we all like different features and functions in applications – which is why there’s about 66 different “torch” apps just on the WP7 marketplace. The government is good at collecting this data and running it’s services, not necessarily great at writing the applications we all want to use.  The cost for them to develop a fully featured transit application on every smartphone platform, to keep it current, evaluate the features that people want would be enormous, not to mention the time to market for across all of the devices would be substantial.

If they just publish the data to a known standard, then application developers can make their own applications, with reliable data and bring it to market using their specialist skills much quicker. I’d love to see 10 different Brisbane Transit applications on WP7 and I’m sure many of you would love to see it on your favourite devices.

For us, it would mean we can take the investment we made in TransHub Sydney, and apply it to the Brisbane data and make an equivalent application in under 2 weeks – I don’t think any government department could match that time to market. As we have customers using each city version of the application we can address, and add feature requests for a specific city and apply them across the range of cities with not much additional effort.

TransHub Expands And Goes International

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After our initial launch of TransHub Sydney just over a month ago, our biggest feature request is to have a version for other cities. We’re pleased to announce that as of yesterday we now have 6 cities – 5 in Australia, and 1 in New Zealand on the marketplace:

Australia

Adelaide http://adl.transhub.com

Cairns http://cns.transhub.com

Perth http://per.transhub.com

Sydney http://syd.transhub.com

Townsville http://tsv.transhub.com

New Zealand

Auckland http://akl.transhub.com

In Australia we’re currently beta testing Canberra and hope to have that available to you very soon also. For New Zealand – we’re looking into Wellington if there’s interest. For other countries, we’re looking at adding some features for displaying/calculating distances in miles so we can support a number of cities in the USA.

We’re in the process of upgrading the application to Mango so we can address a number of the features you’ve been asking for.  We’ll be putting out a call for beta testers for that soon, so stay tuned.