Best Practices for Requiring Public GBFS Feeds
A growing number of cities are recognizing the importance of public APIs, and can serve as models for other policymakers. A common practice is to require a public GBFS feed, so the public can access real-time information about a city's free-floating mobility program.
On this page:
GBFS? MDS? What’s the difference?
As a real-time, two-way communication channel between operators and government, it is not intended as a publicly-available data feed. Instead,
MDS compliance requires
that a public, real-time data feed be made available in GBFS format.
Guidance about requiring GBFS
In December 2018, the Chief Data Officers of 13 major U.S. cities — including Denver, CO, Kansas City, MO, Louisville, KY, Pittsburgh, PA, and San Diego, CA — signed a
Dockless Mobility Open Letter
from Harvard University’s Civic Analytics Network. The letter echoes NABSA’s guidance and recommends that cities require a real-time API “published directly to the public” in GBFS format.
Public, real-time APIs can be required for many types of on-street transportation options, not just bikeshare and e-scooters. Washington, DC, for example, requires public GBFS feeds from operators in its moped program. APIs can also be used for carshare, microtransit, ridehail, and other services.
Public APIs that show the real-time availability of vehicles do not contain personally identifiable information such as user names, addresses, or IDs. They do, however, show the precise locations of vehicles available for use, along with a vehicle ID.
As part of
, operators are required to rotate or randomize vehicle IDs each time a vehicle becomes available. This prevents inferring the precise start and endpoints of trips by seeing when and where a specific vehicle ID “disappears” and then “reappears” in the data.
Making GBFS available to the public
Simply requiring an operator to host a GBFS feed on its website is not a guarantee that it will be accessible to the public.
In addition to posting links on government websites and open data portals, where they can be found by local audiences, industry best practice is to also list feeds on NABSA’s GitHub repository, which contains a comprehensive list of public GBFS feeds for those accessing data across multiple cities.
- 👍 Government agency website: To make it possible for the public to find required GBFS feeds, cities including Washington, DC, Arlington County, VA, Kansas City, MO, and Providence, RI, link to the feed URLs from their government websites.
- 👍👍 Open data portal: Cities such as Calgary, AB, and Louisville, KY, have posted public GBFS feeds to municipal open data portals, while Portland, OR, posts GBFS feeds in its own GitHub repository.
- 👍👍👍 Published to NABSA GitHub: Chicago, IL, not only posted GBFS feeds on its website, it also engaged in the best practice of updating NABSA’s GitHub repository, which provides a comprehensive listing of public GBFS feeds around the world.
A wide range of cities require GBFS as part of their mobility programs. Four cities with strong, clear, and well-enforced language are:
Los Angeles, CA
"All permitted Operators shall provide a publicly accessible API that meets the requirements of the General Bikeshare Feed Specification. The Operator may not change the API URL without notifying the City with at least 30 days’ notice. Operators are required to make the API endpoint available for public consumption.” As part of LADOT’s Mobility Data Specification requirements, the city notes: “Any MDS compatible API... must must also provide a link to your open GBFS."
LADOT Dockless On-Demand Personal Mobility Conditional Permit
“(1) Permit holder shall provide a publicly accessible application program interface, clearly posted on the company’s website that shows, at minimum, the current location of any dockless vehicles available for rental at all times.
(2) A smart phone-based application used to rent dockless vehicles does not qualify as a publicly accessible application program interface.
(3) Data must be provided in compliance with the Generalized Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS)... To account for the dockless nature of the vehicles covered by this permit, the following clarifications and modifications are accepted to the GBFS:
(a) There are no “stations” in the parlance of GBFS. As such, station_status.json should return an empty list and station_information.json should return an empty list;
(b) free_bike_status.json is required;
(c) the field “vehicle_type” shall be added to the public API to describe the vehicle type. This may be either “bicycle,” “e-bike,” “scooter,” or another type of permitted vehicle that must be specified.
(4) The public API need not be available without authentication; however, any member of the public, including commercial entities, must be able to gain access to the data provided by the API by requesting access through a web interface. Moreover, the provider should provide access on average of at least 50 requests an hour...
(6) If the operator operates more than one type of vehicle, they must provide a separate GBFS version... API [per vehicle type].”
Arlington County, VA
“(c) [Company] shall provide a publicly-accessible application program interface, clearly posted on the company’s website that shows, at minimum, the current location of any dockless vehicles available for rental at all times.
(d) A smart phone-based application used to rent dockless vehicles does not qualify as a publicly accessible application program interface.
(e) [Company] shall use the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS) as documented at
for its devices. [Company] shall inform Arlington County of the location of the gbfs.json file on the Internet. The gbfs.json file contains the necessary information to find other files related to the GBFS data. If a token or authentication is required to view that file, the location to apply for the token must also be submitted to Arlington County.
(f) Arlington County requires that [Company] publish in a location accessible by Arlington County staff six of the GBFS... draft files. Below are the required files that must be published...”