The UK’s bus network will soon be modernised with a high-tech route-planning system as the government attempts to make bus travel more appealing.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), the new “big data” technology will allow passengers to “plan their journeys down to the minute”, with real-time bus location data. It’s a scheme the DfT calls “pioneering”, and the department says it hopes the plans will make bus travel “easier to use than ever”.

Under the plan, the DfT will standardise and publish information from operators, giving passengers the tools to plan routes, estimate journey times and find out the costs in advance. From early 2020, the scheme will offer information and routes and timetables, with location and fare data expected “by 2021”.

Woman on smartphone commuting in London with double-decker bus

App developers will be able to add the information into existing travel apps, while the DfT says others will be able to develop new products that “improve connectivity for communities” and encourage people to use public transport.

Buses minister Baroness Vere said the vehicles were one of the most popular forms of public transport, and opening up the data could herald a “golden age” for buses.

“Buses are the most frequently used form of public transport – to get to work, to the library, to the doctors or to see family and friends,” she said. “By harnessing the transforming power of data and technology we could be on the threshold of a golden age for buses. Sharing data on routes, bus locations and fares will give passengers even more confidence to ride.”

Man riding the bus alone

The DfT says the new scheme is necessary because Transport Focus says a mere half of bus users think it’s easy to “stay up to date with timetables and fares”. This, the department says, is impacting the number of journeys taken and the user experience.

To combat this, the DfT says the new Bus Open Data Service will be supported by new rules that mean bus operators are legally required to provide route and timetable data by the end of 2020. The provision of fare, ticket and location data will be mandatory by 2021.

Arriva UK Bus in Milton Keynes UK

“Having been involved in the bus open data programme from the start, we’re delighted to see this significant step forward with the launch of the bus open data service in early 2020 as planned,” said David Beardmore, the commercial director at the Open Data Institute.

“This marks the start of a digital transformation for the delivery of bus services across England and will benefit both the tech industry who will use the data to innovate and develop new products and services, but fundamentally consumers are the ultimate winners; armed with better information they can plan their journeys more easily and make better choices about tickets.”

Inside a double decker bus empty seats in London