Bus Tracker API

Edinburgh,Technology Monday 9th June 2008

A while back Lothian Buses fitted some fancy GPS tracking to all of their fleet enabling real-time tracking. Then LCD screens appeared at (selected) bus stops giving you a list of incoming buses and their ETA. All very clever. Then, at last they launched a web site which gave access to the same data: mybustracker.co.uk.

I think that making the website resemble the signs from the street is a poor design choice. Why not work with the medium you are presenting information over (the web) rather than trying to make it resemble something else? They constrain information into a tiny space, put it in a stupid font, make the background looks like all lcd-y, use excessive popups and it takes forever just to get to the basic information.

In shock news, this isn’t just a whiny post with no actual action. I present the beginnings of a “Bus Tracker API”. Think of it as a “cleaning” of the data for a fresh beginning. If we can get clean data out of the system then we can build a clean interface on top of it. My API is REST-ful and inspired by the flickr API. I have one method so far “bustracker.departures.getNext” which takes one parameter: the bus stop code. It shows you all of the incoming departures for a given bus stop. Here it is working for the stop nearest my flat. Feel free to change to bus stop code to another one by digging around the Bus Tracker website. I’ll hopefully have some other, more useful methods done soon and maybe some nifty google maps visuals…

Update: Source code now browsable at: http://code.google.com/p/bustrackr/



  1. hey are you still developing this, or have you stopped… I would like to see how far you progressed with it and also look into further development of it, including creating an android app..

    Let me know

  2. Hi David,

    It progressed to the point where I built a basic iPhone web app front end for it. This runs at: http://bustrackr.co.uk and just calls the API behind the scenes.

    I’ve noticed that a couple of iPhone apps have popped up on the scene:

    http://www.busesapp.com/ & http://www.apptism.com/apps/edinbus

    Buses app whilst technically more accomplished is not free, which I don’t particularly agree with.

  3. Hi will there be an Lothian buses android app anytime soon? Thanks

  4. Hi Caz. I’m personally not developing one but I know a number of people are. Including this one: http://code.google.com/p/androidedinburghbustracker/ which might be worth keeping an eye on.

  5. Hi Olly,

    I’m the developer of one of the iPhone apps you mentioned, Buses Edinburgh (http://www.busesapp.com). As you noted that you didn’t particularly agree with me charging for the application, I thought I’d just clarify that the application retrieves data using my own implementation and doesn’t use your source or API for commercial gain. That would be a rather despicable thing to do and I hope that’s not what you thought!

    Obviously, software development, maintenance and support costs money, hence the (relatively small) price tag. I feel that the application adds sufficient value to the core mybustracker.co.uk experience to justify a small charge, but I respect your opinion.


  6. Hi Jamie,

    Don’t worry, I didn’t think you were using my source or anything like that.

    I’ve had similar conversations with friends about charging for software etc. I respect that it’s your time and energy that went into development and so it’s totally up to you to charge for the app.

    Plus a bit of competition in the App Store never hurt anyone!

    Cheers for the comments.

  7. What’s wrong with charging for software? If you make a nice cake you can sell it, why not an app?

    Live bus times apps are essentially fancy browsers for a data source, and if they’re good enough I think it’s an honest living for a developer to charge for them.

    I have a vested interest in this; I sell a bus times app.


  8. I have no problem with charging for software.

    I think my comment at the time was driven out of the frustration at the lack of forward-thinking by Edinburgh Council/Lothian Buses. My belief was that they should have developed the software and/or provided a better mobile experience themselves.

    How is your app doing?

  9. Ah, fair enough – sorry to have mis-understood you, Olly.

    Yeah, my app’s doing well thanks. Looking to try and expand soon.

  10. Where about is the API code? Its not on google code no more! 🙁 I have an idea for its use!

  11. Hi Callum, code is still here:


    but it’s now horribly out of date and doesn’t return anything useful any more.

  12. Very useful article! I am really interested in the Bus Tracker API but I can’t find any information online about getting it. Do you need to register with the council? Any info you can provide will be useful. Thanks!

  13. Stefan – there still isn’t an API as such. There are a few libraries used by the app developers that scrape various web services. Check out the source code for the mobile apps.