Running a site like FixMyTransport

Note: We are no longer looking for a new owner for FixMyTransport. However, the post below may be of help if you are thinking of setting up/running a similar site.

As we announced in our last blog post, we’ll be shutting down a number of our sites in the near future.

This post is to help people who are thinking of using the FixMyTransport code to do something similar.

The FixMyTransport concept

fmtWe launched FixMyTransport in 2011. We hoped it would do for public transport what FixMyStreet had done for potholes: put conversations (in this case between passengers and transport operators) in public, and get problems fixed. And, like FixMyStreet, it lets you contact the authority responsible for your problem, even if you don’t know who that is.

FixMyTransport’s structure enables it to go one step further than FixMyStreet, though: it contains a mechanism that helps users identify people with the same problem, and encourages them to get together and do something about it.

Scope and performance

It’s an ambitious site which indexes all public transport across Britain, with a page for every bus stop, train station, and route in the country. It also holds contact details of every operator, council and Public Transport Executive, and it elegantly links all these together.

In many ways, it’s a success. To date, FixMyTransport users have sent more than 10,000 issues to operators. It gets up to 250,000 visitors, and over 650,000 page views per month, and performs very well in Google for any search term based on a route as defined by its starting point and destination, or based on bus numbers and the areas they operate in.

And that’s good, because (really as a side effect to the site’s core purpose of making it easy to report problems), FixMyTransport also shows transport routes really clearly, in a way that hadn’t previously been so easy to find online. So, for example, it is great for people wondering where exactly a bus stops along its route, or where to find a bus stop in an unfamiliar location.

If you’re thinking about running a site like FixMyTransport, all this is important. It works, and people visit it. There’s potential to use it as we did—a service for contacting operators in public—or for uncoupling that part of the mechanism, and using it instead as an information resource.

So, if FixMyTransport performs so well, why did mySociety get rid of it?

We worked long and hard on the site, but there was one thing we didn’t predict: the technical resource required to keep the transport data current. At the site’s launch, we imported the vast National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN), National Public Transport Gazetteer (NPTG) and the National Public Transport Data Repository (NPTDR) datasets, not foreseeing how quickly they would date.

Bus routes, in particular, change hands and alter routes frequently, and reflecting that requires frequent data refreshes. That’s not currently automated, and would need considerable changes to the source code that, given mySociety’s core mission and our limited resources, we just couldn’t justify.

If you want to create a site like FixMyTransport, we hope you’ll consider the decision carefully. Unfortunately, it’s not a project we’d recommend for keen enthusiasts: you really will require some technical knowledge.

We reckon you’ll need the following resource:

  • Ten to twenty minutes per day answering user support queries and performing site admin
  • A developer who is proficient in Ruby on Rails and has dedicated time to alter the code to allow the transport data to be updated regularly from the currently available data sources
  • The will and the wherewithal to support your site as a long term project

Good luck!

Our FixMyTransport site is now closed, but the code is Open Source and you are welcome to pick it up and adapt it to your needs. We’d be delighted if anyone’s interested in running something similar: drop us a line and tell us about it if you do.

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