Get Real-Time Traffic Data At No Cost

If you're looking for a traffic data web service, you probably have not been able to find one for free. Now mapping pioneer MapQuest is beta testing a service it says provides "real time traffic information related to incidents, markets and flow."

Traffic incidents from MapQuest

MapQuest (our MapQuest API profile) keeps plugging away at developer services, an area where it has been incredibly behind Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The AOL-owned company, which has also seen its consumer mapping lead slip, has released several services that its competitors don't have. Last summer, MapQuest became the first to provide direct data access to driving directions.

The new traffic service is in a similar vein. MapQuest returns either XML or JSON of construction and other incidents within a geographic area. What you do with that data is then up to you--the terms don't even seem to stop you from putting it on a competitor's map.

Direct access to the data gives developers more freedom. Compare this to how Google often makes data, such as its directions API, available: via a JavaScript interface. Of course, the JavaScript method makes it easier to incorporate the data on a Google Map. However, it makes it difficult--or impossible--to use the data any other way.

Traffic data is valuable. Companies, such as INRIX, are paid a pretty penny to provide it to partners. And it's worth it, because right now it's still difficult to collect. New companies, such as Waze, are attempting to crowdsource traffic data, so expect the landscape to change dramatically in the near future.

In the meantime, MapQuest is still the only one providing this data free of charge, currently as a beta product. Check out its developer guide, which includes a nice sandbox to test out a few calls to the new API.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.



I'm no lawyer, but my look through the <a href="" rel="nofollow">terms of service</a> seemed to suggest there were no such restrictions. But you're right--that's something to look out for. Google's geocoder web service is that way. Even though you are receiving data server-side, it requires you to display the result on a map.

[...] making it reliable data at that level. Like many new developer features from MapQuest like their real-time traffic data, its new geocoder is in beta. If you want to add more accurate geocoding to your applications, give [...]

If you use this service you should pay attention to any fine print in the service agreement. Most of the data that map providers like MapQuest and Google provide is usable only in conjunction with their maps. Even if they give the data to you in a format that is easy to use without the map you may not actually be able to use that data outside of displaying it with a map from the same service. Services like Waze will probably not have these same limitations on their data.