When I was in Vienna some time ago, a good friend of mine showed me Updownvienna.com. This is a web page where you can see at a glance which lifts of Vienna’s tube system are out of service.
I was hooked. I wanted to have something like that for London. I am a wheelchair user and daily user of public transport. I have lost count the of number of times I have been stranded at a broken lift. I contacted Transport for London. I know that TfL monitors all of their lifts and that this data is available. They even provide this information on their own website – very hidden in a lot of text, and you certainly can’t see at a glance which lifts are out of service. In addition, TfL tweets when a lift is out of service, but again just hidden between other tweets. If you don’t monitor their accounts 24/7, you certainly miss some tweets about broken lifts.
Knowing before traveling which lift is out of service is extremely important for wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties or even parents with buggies. It gives you the opportunity to change your route or you can speak to station staff to organise a cab for you at another station. TfL has a brilliant but well hidden policy that disabled people can use a cab on TfL’s cost, if a lift is out of service and if there is no direct alternative bus route.
For over a year I repeatedly ask TfL to make their broken lift information more accessible on their website. I spoke with managers, directors and all smiled kindly and promised to do it but nothing happened. Then the beta version of their new website was released. To my disappointment the lift information are as hidden as before. If you want to try it, go to http://beta.tfl.gov.uk – click on “Status updates”, click on “Stations” and then click through every station mentioned there and search for lift information.
After an evening on Facebook moaning about it, I thought “Maybe I just do it myself”. I am not a developer, just a geek with a passion for transport but I am well connected. So I asked my transport geek friends if they know anyone who could help me using TfL’s open data to build a website where you could see broken lifts at a glance. It only took a few hours until Kirk Northrop emailed me. He is an amazing developer and a transport geek. Immediately he was happy to help me with this project.
Within 24 hours he developed the website UpDownLondon.com – strongly inspired by UpDownVienna.com. He wrote a program to use the official data feed for our website. We also monitor TfL’s Twitter feed.
After two weeks of trialing the website, we were sure that the software was running properly and I began to promote the page. Londonist took up the story, people tweeted about it and it was mentioned on several transport websites. UpDownLondon.com has run flawlessly for a couple of months now and the response has been great. We got emails from wheelchair users thanking us for the service and I am benefiting of UpDownLondon myself on a daily basis. No tube trip without checking our own site. I have little business cards with the website information I give out to every disabled person I meet on the tube and people’s reactions are great. Sometimes it’s better to change things yourself than waiting for others to do it.