Get Real-Time Traffic Data At No Cost

Adam DuVander
Jan. 20 2010, 12:50AM EST

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 Hi! I'm Developer Communications Director for SendGrid and former Executive Editor of ProgrammableWeb. I currently serve as a Contributing Editor. If you have API news, or are interested in writing for ProgrammableWeb, please contact editor@programmableweb.com Though I'm a fan of anything API-related, my particular interest is in mapping. I've published a how-to book, Map Scripting 101, to get anyone started making maps on websites. In a not-so-distant past life I wrote for Wired and Webmonkey.

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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.