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Urban planning

Hong Kong government set to make selected data public, which could be a help for drivers and hospital patients, among others

  • Departments including Transport and Lands will release 650 new data sets this year, which will allow app developers to use information
  • The move is in line with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s policy address vision of turning Hong Kong into a smart city
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 10:53pm

Drivers could next year say goodbye to the hassle of having to hunt around Hong Kong’s narrow streets for that precious vacant parking space, as the city’s government sets out a route to opening up its data.

Victor Lam Wai-kiu, the government’s chief information officer, announced on Thursday that government bodies, including the Transport Department and the Lands Department would be releasing 650 new open data sets this year, taking the total number of open data sets available to about 4,000 by the end of this year.

One of those to be made available in March next year would be real-time parking vacancy data of on-street metered parking spaces. That means finding a parking space could by then be as simple as a few taps on one’s smartphone.

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Opening up data is not as simple as just releasing it. The data needs to be in a machine-readable format, so companies will then be able to use it to make applications
Victor Lam, government chief information officer

The push is in line with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s vision, announced in her policy address last year, to turn Hong Kong into a smart city.

“Opening up data is not as simple as just releasing it. The data needs to be in a machine-readable format, so companies will then be able to use it to make applications,” Victor Lam said. “By opening up the data, we are providing raw materials for companies to be creative and make new applications out of it.”

From June this year, the government will also be releasing the real-time data set of the number of vacant parking spaces in 11 government car parks. At present, the data is only updated every hour.

The Hospital Authority currently updates every 15 minutes on data on waits for emergency services. It is planning to let patients know how long they must wait for services at specialist outpatient clinics.

Tony Yau Kwok-ting, acting assistant commissioner for transport, said the government has been pressing transport companies to open up their data and their responses have been “positive”.

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Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Information Technology Federation, said this is important because, for example, the public can then find out on Google Maps when the next MTR train to their chosen destination will be and which platform they should go to.

Such a service is not available at the moment because the MTR has not made the data publicly available.

“In Japan, you can go on Google Maps and it will tell you which platform you should go to. It also tells you when the next train is coming,” Fong said.

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Chan Kim-ching, founder of the Liber Research Community, said the public should have a say in what data the government opens up. He criticised the government for not releasing the more important data, such as the number and location of government land sites currently unused. This data is important because it allows the public to understand the city’s land shortage, he added.

“Taiwan has an open data department that comes to different departments and gets them to release data,” Chan said. “If would be more ideal if there were also such a department in Hong Kong.”

The government has set up a website data.gov.hk where all open data is available.