Why we made the travel time maps service

This project became Mapumental. Please visit that site for details of our travel-time maps services.
The work was funded and supported by the Department for Transport.

We released our new service yesterday, which allows anyone to order personalised travel commuter maps for any location in Great Britain. Those of you who’ve followed this project for a while might be interested to know how we came to take this route.

Having finished working on the backend and hosting infrastructure of the Mapumental technology last year, we started thinking about the products that should be built with it. To help us work this out, we talked to lots of people in sectors where journey times matter a lot: residential and commercial property, job search, tourism and public services. What we found is that while everyone loved the dynamic location search technology, there were many situations when people wanted to have a simple static map of commuting times.

We heard that these maps would be useful to individuals looking for jobs or property – but also organisations, from property sites to providers of public services, businesses and entertainment venues who’d like a map to put on their website and brochures, or to use in internal analysis.

At first we were surprised, but the more we thought about it, the more sense it made. Our search tool, which we are currently working on updating, serves a different purpose: it shows a combination of search criteria, including travel times, and lets the user play with different parameters interactively. But it did not provide a simple snapshot of travel times for a location, divided in bands which are very helpful in assessing commuting times. So we set out to make the map image service, which is what we launched yesterday.

This was not particularly straightforward to make, and there were many things to consider: how exactly should the shop work, and what should it offer people? We have settled on four core options for the standard maps: total time mapped, direction of travel (whether the location is where one arrives at, or departs from), arrival or departure time, and custom map title. These maps are really easy to order from the website, and we can make them very quickly.

Online ordering works really well for small quantities, but is not ideal for high-volume clients. So we also created a new API – a URL fetcher which allows to create maps in high quantities, as and when needed. These maps can be fully customised, from the choice of colours to number of bands and zoom levels.

The the very first user of our API is Foxtons, the estate agent, who added commuter maps to their property listings last week. It is suitable for any property, jobs or hotels site who hold location information (postcodes, or latitude and longitude) for their listings. The API can equally be used by those needing maps for internal purposes, such as city planners, public services and businesses with multiple branches.

We are really excited that the service has gone live, and we hope that it helps people and organisations in all sorts of ways. A big thank you to Channel 4 and Screen West Midlands, who have provided the commercial investment to enable the development of Mapumental technology and the new service.

If you have any feedback or comments, we’d love to hear them.

Sample map: travel times to Wembley Stadium