MyTransport.SG: Why LTA Really Killed the ‘Park-a-Lot’ iPhone App

A few days ago I wrote a post about how LTA had told Park-a-Lot developer, NiiDees, that his wildly popular iPhone app could no longer access real-time parking information from garages.

The reasons cited were that the information leased to LTA was only allowed to be shown on its site, and not through iPhone apps.  They also said that they would consider leasing the information out, for a hefty price I’m sure.  Thinking about it now, that in itself is a contradiction.  If the information was only licensed for their site, how could they license it out?

From an article in today’s online edition of the Straits Times titled “Mobile service for commuters”:

“There is also information on premium buses, Electronic Road Pricing gantries and rates as well as updated information on available car park lots, among other things.”

via StraitsTimes.com

I suppose the truth of the matter is that they were blowing smoke.  It seems as though they were killing free competition in advance of their release of a new web portal called MyTransport.SG which was launched today and will provide parking information, among other things.  If LTA were a public company I could understand if they wanted to limit competition or use of public data that’s being paid for by citizens, but that’s simply not the case here.

MyTransport.sg standard browser incompatibility message
MyTransport.sg standard browser incompatibility message.

Regardless, I took a look at the new mobile site, which is only accessible via a mobile browser, and it looks like they did a fairly good job with it.  The design looks like an iPhone home screen (lawsuit pending?) with the functionality of a native iPhone app, including a “Home” button and a “Location” button along the bottom of the screen.  Here are some screenshots:

MyTransport.sg Homescreen
MyTransport.sg Homescreen
The Parking Guide
The Parking Guide, and probably the reason why LTA shut off Park-A-Lot’s Access
MRT LRT Station Search
MRT LRT Station Search

You can use it to find the nearest MRT or LRT station.  If you don’t want to enter a search term, you can press the location button towards the bottom of the screen (crosshairs icon) and then allow your location to be broadcast to automatically get results.

Allow MyTransport.sg to use your location pop-up.
Allow MyTransport.sg to use your location pop-up.
Nearby Bus Stops
Nearby Bus Stops

The results are really accurate.  It gave a good list of all the bus stops near to where I am.

I’m not sure I like LTA’s questionable business practices, but I have to say they did a good job with their web interface for this data.

LTA Trying To Scam Singaporeans’ Money?

The Park-a-Lot Lite app, developed by local developer NiiDees, has removed its live parking data feature which displayed which carparks had vacant lots, following a notice from the LTA.

via zdnet asia

Park-a-Lot Lite is an iPhone app that was previously able to pull data from the LTA’s website, which then showed Singaporean drivers, through a convenient interface, what parking garages around the city-state had open spots.

However, LTA ordered the developer to disable that function of the app, which more or less killed the app’s usefulness.  It was one of the most popular iPhone apps in Singapore prior to this move.

So, what’s LTA’s reasoning?  Money.  They want more of it.

That said, the LTA is open to licensing the data out, the spokesperson added.

via zdnet asia

LTA says that this data is collected from garage operators to be displayed only on the LTA website. I assume that means they have a contract set up with these garage operators, paying them citizens’ tax money to have this information made available for display on their government website, which is itself also funded by citizens’ tax money.

Now, this offer to license out the data is where I think LTA is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes in an effort to create a double-taxation. You see, citizens are already paying for this data to be made available to them via the website.

When you think about it that way, you could in fact say that LTA has failed the public and is misusing tax money.  I looked over the LTA and OneMotoring sites briefly and didn’t see any prominent links to this service, and until now I didn’t even realize it was available.  I wonder how many other people in Singapore were in a similar situation?  Doesn’t that mean the revenue that was being used to license that data was being misused by LTA?  Doesn’t that mean they failed to make the data properly available to the public when the public was paying for it?  This is a useful service that was being paid for and that the public obviously wanted easy access to, yet they were denied.  And now they’ve been denied again.

What Park-a-Lot Lite did was package that information into a convenient, easy to use interface that allowed citizens to use data that they were already paying for with their tax money.  There’s really no difference between an iPhone app accessing the data on LTA’s site, and a web browser accessing the data on LTA’s site.  The same amount of data is transferred.  Less actually, since only the data is requested, which puts less strain (not that there was much strain before) on LTA’s web host and any bandwidth limitations it might have.  One could argue that the data was only licensed to be shown on LTA’s website, and I would argue that the App isn’t a website and is merely acting as a window to LTA’s site.  Additionally, I would argue that with the rapidly changing tech scene in Singapore, and with more and more people going mobile, LTA should have taken the initiative to amend their contract to specifically allow for mobile access to the data from their site.

Instead, what’s going on here is that LTA has recognized an opportunity to try to shaft people out of more of their hard earned money by making them pay for something they’ve already paid for and is moving quickly to capitalize on it.

Shameful, and it should be illegal.