Zipabout, the Oxford-based tech start-up will, from early next year, give away its ‘Zipabout Transport Graph’, which it describes as a big data and communications platform, to any UK local authority. So where’s the catch?

Well, the company gains commercial business from transport operators and others that want to provide personalised information to their passengers. However, budget-stretched local authorities have proved a harder sell.

Oxfordshire County Council was a development partner and the Zipabout solution is likely to constitute one component in the council’s ambitious plans to make Oxford the world’s first zero emissions zone. The platform provides a ‘digital backbone’, fed from multiple datasets and with the ability to push the integrated data out to customers through social media and other channels.

“Local authorities have lots of issues around data aggregation and sharing,” says Dan Chick, Zipabout’s technical director. This adds cost, including duplicate data storage but, more importantly, there’s the bigger issue of data residing in siloes which cannot be shared.

With the free slimmed down version of the platform, local authorities will be offered a ‘self-service’ option, says Chick, where they can upload data themselves, adding it to all of the default transport data that is already in the platform, from the likes of the Traveline journey planner and Network Rail.

Examples of the type of information that local authorities might want to add are around bike-share locations, park and ride schemes, walking initiatives and car share schemes. If a commercial organisation, such as a bus operator or taxi company, also wants to add data to the local authority’s platform then Zipabout would charge them to do so.

The solution in Oxfordshire is currently being rolled out to residents, initially via a website but with a mobile version to follow next year, with the latter currently being beta tested, says Chick. It is meant to span all public transport, including train operators, GWR and Chiltern Railways, plus the Oxford Bus Company and the city’s multiple bike-share schemes. Unlike Google Maps, it can provide planning across multiple modes of transport for a single journey, and it will enable messages to be pushed out to passengers, such as related to disruption and alternative routes.

Zipabout partners with Amazon Web Services and the version of its solution for local authorities to download is scheduled to be available via the Amazon Marketplace from early next year.