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Improving journeys by opening data: the case of Transport for London (TfL)

Merlin Stone (Department of Management and Social Sciences, St. Mary’s University, London, UK)
Eleni Aravopoulou (Department of Management and Social Sciences, St. Mary’s University, London, UK)

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 12 March 2018




This case study describes how one of the world’s largest public transport operations, Transport for London (TfL), transformed the real-time availability of information for its customers and staff through the open data approach, and what the results of this transformation were. The purpose of this paper is therefore to show what is required for an open data approach to work.


This case study is based mainly on interviews at TfL and data supplied by TfL directly to the researchers. It analyses as far as possible the reported facts of the case to identify the processes required for open data and the benefits thereof.


The main finding is that achieving an open data approach in public transport is helped by having a clear commitment to the idea that the data belong to the public and that third parties should be allowed to use and repurpose the information, by having a strong digital strategy, and by creating strong partnerships with data management organisations that can support the delivery of high volumes of information.

Research limitations/implications

This research is based upon a single case study, albeit over an extensive period, so the findings cannot be applied simply to other situations, other than as evidence of what is possible. However, similar processes could be applied in other situations as a heuristic approach to open data strategy implementation.

Practical implications

The case study shows how open data can be used to create commercial and non-commercial customer-facing products and services, which passengers and other road users use to gain a better travel experience, and that this approach can be valued in terms of financial/economic contribution to customers and organisations.

Social implications

This case study shows the value that society can obtain from the opening of data in public transport, and the importance of public service innovation in delivering benefits to citizens.


This is the first case study to show in some detail some of the processes and activities required to open data to public service customers and others.



Stone, M. and Aravopoulou, E. (2018), "Improving journeys by opening data: the case of Transport for London (TfL)", The Bottom Line, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 2-15.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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