Samtrafiken: Innovation in Public Transportation via APIs
Samtrafiken is a Swedish non-profit jointly owned by 36 shareholders, including 21 public transportation authorities. The mission of the organization is to coordinate public transit through a national ticketing system called Resplus, which combines various modes of transport—subway, railway, bus, and boat—on a single door-to-door ticket.
Challenges and opportunities
Samtrafiken is the only system of its kind in Europe; no other country has been able to achieve such a high level of cooperation among all of its major transit providers. The system relies on an efficient, centralized, tightly controlled administrative presence to ensure seamless scheduling and ticketing across local, regional, and national carriers.
With the rise of mobile, however, some developers began taking control into their own hands, screen-scraping sites to gather information and timetables for the creation of mobile apps. Some of those apps proved very popular, despite the fact that their trip data was often incomplete or out-of-date. Additionally, some screen-scraping technologies were so poorly programmed that they caused serious traffic problems and occasionally crashed the entire site.
“We started hearing complaints, because a lot of people assumed that the transit authorities were responsible for the developers’ mistakes,” Samitrafiken innovation leader Elias Arnestrand, says. “For the next few years—like a lot of people in our industry—we tried our best to regain control of a completely altered landscape.
“It took a major mindshift to finally see mobility as an opportunity for driving innovation,” he adds. “That’s when we began sharing our data directly with developers, giving them a chance to create a richer experience based on more complete information.”
In 2009, Samtrafiken led an initiative to encourage the Swedish transportation industry to embrace a more open approach to data. The result was Trafiklab, an award-winning open API initiative that enables professionals and third-party developers to access, discuss, and create a simple, flexible set of APIs for use across the industry.
Today, these APIs play a critical role in Samtrafiken’s ongoing efforts to provide users with relevant information and services. Third-party contributions remain more valuable than ever; for example, more than half of the API requests originating from Stockholm’s public transportation system are associated with third-party services.
Samtrafiken relies on a hosted Apigee solution to manage API keys, identify bad requests, and absorb traffic spikes.
“In the beginning, Apigee was essential in helping us open our APIs to a wide range of public transportation operators and authorities here in Sweden,” says Arnestrand. “Now, several years on, the Apigee platform is still the main gateway for nearly all API activity across our system.”
Screenshot courtesy of http://www.trafiklab.se/api
Historically, Samtrafiken was slow to develop services internally, turning most launches into old news. Those issues became even more problematic as mobile devices gained a foothold among consumers; this further complicated internal development cycles with a bewildering array of new devices and operating systems.
All that changed with the introduction of a core set of APIs. Samtrafiken is no longer so vulnerable to massive changes in consumer behavior, owing much of its resilience to a community of innovative developers eager to turn challenges into opportunities.
“The development community has shown us some really exciting stuff,” Arnestrand says. “For example, they recently created an app that gamifies public transit by rewarding points to people who utilize transportation services. Ideas like that are essential for engaging with a new generation of travelers on the next generation of devices.”
- Third-party developers publishing transit apps without the cooperation of Samtrafiken
- Users complaining to transit authorities about the unreliability of those apps, not realizing that third parties were responsible
- Samtrafiken recognizing the potential of sharing data directly with third parties for richer, more innovative experiences based on accurate, up-to-date information
- Becoming less vulnerable to massive shifts in user behavior
- Relying on a community of innovative developers eager to turn challenges into opportunities
- Applying gamification and other exciting strategies to engage with a new generation of travelers