6 min readUpdated Oct 11, 2021

Stream aligned transport: Five API Strategies for Better Mobility

Stream aligned transport: Five API Strategies for Better Mobility
Eve MartinEve Martin

Planes, trains and delivery drones are just one layer of transport systems. Improvements in mobility are controlled by effective, multi-directional sharing of data between people and transport modes - often in real time. The article below outlines five ways realtime APIs accelerate efficiencies in transport, and how to get on board.

The transport industry is rife with talk about megatrends. Often overlooked, however, is the infrastructure requirements on which these new technologies depend. 5G networks enable connectivity, but fail to maintain millions of sub-100ms connections between citizens, systems and vehicles, AV or otherwise.

Multi-modal transport solutions rely not just on huge amounts of data, reliably transferred, processed and delivered in real time, but also integration with realtime APIs providing updates on other transport modes, see for example Uber's latest expansion in London.  The article below outlines five strategies for transport providers, with recommendations on how to deploy realtime APIs for better overall mobility, and how to overcome associated technical challenges.

Strategy 1 - Be IoT-ready

Centralized transport data exchanges are increasingly the 'unseen layer' in transport, collating information from geo-location systems, IoT- and end-user devices. Live information on seat availability and timings are now the norm. Going one step further, transit data portal Moovit’s collaboration with TomTom and Microsoft connects cars to the wider grid of public transport to declutter city centers.

Bring autonomous vehicles into the equation - which rely on data transfer from micro-sensors as old cars did fuel - and cities without centralized realtime data exchanges face not just 'less convenience', but chaos. AVs will be ubiquitous by 2025, according to some sources.

Strategy 2 - Upgrade REST-APIs

Transferring realtime data at scale comes with a host of technical complexity. Reliable data stream networks require constant maintenance, they are difficult to scale, require built-in elasticity to deal with bursts in usage, and message ordering to deal with huge amounts of important data. Many transport REST APIs come with terms of use that state developers must ingest data, process it and then republish it in order to integrate into apps and services. Or they are heavily rate-limited. All this takes up valuable engineering time - and is a problem only a small number of companies and people are currently working on, Ably included.

Strategy 3 - Embrace the real ‘sharing economy’

The first barrier to transport providers entering the realtime data economy is often cultural. Legacy thinking favors technologies that lock-in existing commercial agreements around data. In transport as in other industries, the easiest and most-effective way to ‘defend’ market position is actually by opening up and letting innovation in.  Demonstrating the advantage is Transport for London, which has 80 data feeds now available for developers through a free unified API and attracted 13,000+ developers. This ecosystem has resulted in wide-reaching mobility improvements, with London often the top of 'best transport system' rankings. Demonstrating legacy thinking is that fact surprisingly few major cities have followed suit.

Transport for London's decision to open a unified realtime APIs famously gave rise to 645 apps, saving the city's economy £130m, according to Deloitte. 

Strategy 4 - Engineer your way into the Realtime Economy

Roadblocks are not just cultural. A significant technical obstacle to better API integration in transport is the overall lack of unified streaming protocols. For example, with many IoT devices relying on the MQTT protocol, layers of protocol interoperability are needed if this data is to be transported, processed and leveraged. For developers, this represents a significant time investment that slows down the innovation process.

The process is simplified if data streams can be accessed, shared and built upon in a protocol-agnostic environment. By making realtime APIs easy to deploy, integrate and distribute, the API Streamer (the first realtime API management platform) and Ably Hub were built to help companies kick-start important innovations around both publicly available and proprietary realtime data, both in transport and other industries.

Strategy 5 - Join (the) movement

Connected systems enable better, more holistic approaches to mobility, with positive effects on air quality, congestion and other aspects of urban life. EU research estimates that, with an open repository of transport data (often in real time), 629 million hours of unnecessary waiting time could be saved on the EU's roads and energy consumption cut by 16 per cent. Government-commissioned research aside, most of us sing praises of even the simplest journey-planning app.

Paddy Byers, Ably Realtime’s CTO, who leads a team of engineers who invested over 50,000 hours developing realtime API management solutions, sums up the importance of better data transport layer to support better, more holistic transport systems:

“Realtime data infrastructure can be usefully employed to create a holistic city-wide and multi-modal transport system. As with real-world logistics systems, when revamped for realtime, data transfer systems should be geared towards avoiding intermediaries and data congestion, emulating models that allow data to be sent directly from source to the end-user, across multiple transport modes.”

According to Gartner, 50% of all managed APIs will be event-driven by 2020, and 40% of developers believe realtime APIs are in need of innovation.

If you're interested in or frustrated by the challenges related to realtime data infrastructure for large interdependent systems or want to talk further about sharing realtime APIs for better overall transport systems, get in touch. We'd be happy to talk more about how we can help you overcome your challenges and achieve your goals.

Ably is a global cloud network for streaming data and managing the full lifecycle of realtime APIs.

To find out about the current state of data-transfer infrastructure, the development of the new realtime data economy, and how your organization can turn data streams into revenue streams, talk to Ably’s tech team.

More information about the past, present and future of the API economy is available to read in an article based on a talk by Ably’s Founder and CEO, Data is no longer at REST.

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