Berlin: New passenger information services via third-party cooperation - A status overview -

Our society is becoming increasingly mobile and those who
travel a lot want to keep well informed. This is particularly true
in urban regions where the private car is gradually declining in
importance. Nevertheless: the private car still suggests the much
praised individual self-determination, while users of the local
public transport service (PT), on the other hand, have sometimes
the feeling of both less flexibility and more dependency.

It is,
however, possible to further improve the situation in favour of
the PT by providing passengers with information, which will
make them feel that they are in good hands. In this regard,
the VBB has already achieved a great deal. In today’s highly
differentiated world of technology, the VBB is unfortunately not
able to serve all the operating systems or target groups by itself.

Alternative ways of providing information have to be sought: in
those areas where the VBB cannot itself be active, the answer
may lie in cooperation with third-parties. In order to further
increase the quality of information to passengers in this regard
and – as a result – the acceptance of local public transport both
as a transportation option and sensible alternative to the car, this
represents a good approach.

The current VBB cooperation for the purpose of better passenger
information contains two main elements: firstly external software
developers are directly able to access the VBB-Fahrinfo (timetable
information system) via an interface (API), and secondly, the
VBB is participating in the OpenData Initiative launched by the
Federal State of Berlin.

External interface to VBB-Fahrinfo (API)
Since the middle of 2010, the VBB has provided an interface (the
so-called Application Programming Interface - API) for external
software developers, enabling the direct online integration of
the State’s timetable information system VBB-Fahrinfo (fahrinfo. into their own services and applications. By this
means, a user accessing such an application developed by thirdparties
will obtain exactly the same connection information as he
would do by accessing a VBB service directly. The advantage here
is that the developers are free to concentrate on the targetgroup
specific implementation of the application, without
having to worry about missing any updates in the timetables.
The API enables them at all times to access the current connections
for the whole of Berlin and Brandenburg.

The demand for access to the VBB API is constantly increasing
and this is indeed confirmation that the right decision was made
by VBB. The VBB API access is initially provided on a test basis to
allow developers to test and implement their projects undisturbed
in a protected environment, be they for end user services,
university projects or for trying out on a ”just because” basis
(more information at: Once the applications are working stable, they are placed in the status - ”productive”.
Perhaps the most famous “productive” customer is NOKIA, who
has integrated the VBB-Fahrinfo into its ”Bus&Bahn” app (already
preinstalled in new equipment).

Other forms of cooperation, supported by the VBB with the VBB
Fahrinfo API access, go a step further in the direction of multimodal
information services. For example, users of the Daimler
AG ”moovel” Mobility Platform can decide by themselves how
they would like to travel from A to B. Depending on the route,
the customer receives various offers, enabling him to select from
PT, car-sharing, taxi and ridesharing (or combine them) – according
to whether he would like to travel by the cheapest, quickest or
most environmentally friendly option. This service was started on
29th October 2012 as the 2nd pilot project in Berlin (following
the Stuttgart project) with the PT information coming directly
from the VBB via its API.

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Screenshots of the DAIMLER AG “moovel” Mobility Platform

By means of these and other forms of cooperation, it is possible
to create more information channels, in which PT information is
available, than the VBB could achieve on its own. This, in turn,
can result in creating a positive image for local public transport.

Federal State of Berlin OpenData Initiative
Using PT information a whole lot more is possible than just the
timetable information service, because it can be combined with
other (added value) services, such as information on housings or
doctor’s practices reachable by public transport. In such cases,
providing connection information via API is not always sufficient.

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Source: Stefan Wehrmeyer (

In order to make correspondingly more complex (added value)
applications possible, it is necessary to have readily accessible
and machine-readable transport data (packages) going beyond
the API. The intention – as required as part of ”OpenData” – is
to make this data available to everybody free of charge in a
simple manner.

Berlin is a pioneer in the provision of such open data – an
OpenData Initiative has been founded here, which includes
crucial support from the Senate Administration for Economics, Technology and Research (SenWTF). As part of the ”ServiceStadt
Berlin 2016” project, the Federal Secretary Committee for
Modernisation of Administration has launched the project “Von
der öffentlichen zur offenen Verwaltung“ (From public to open
administration) and specified that administrations and provincial
offices are to make their diverse data available on an active basis.
This also includes information on the PT. In order to comply with
this, the SenWTF together with Berlin Online Stadtportal GmbH
has launched a Data Platform (, in which
various official data is to be freely available for the purpose of
being integrated into meaningful services. This form of data
retrieval will open up a wide range of possibilities. The VBB is
also contributing to the Data Platform by making its timetable
data available in GTFS format.

Moreover, in collaboration with the SenWTF, Berlin Online
Stadtportal GmbH and the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF),
the VBB presented an Entwicklertag (Developers’ Open Day) at the
end of November, at which customer-oriented local public transport
issues were raised and discussed with creative and committed
programmers, web designers and OpenData enthusiasts. As a result,
ideas were created for new, innovative services for local people and
tourists in the form of mobile and web-based applications.

More information on the Entwicklertag is available at:

  • Updated : December 11, 2012

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