Fixed-Route Transit Information

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Since its debut in 2005, GTFS has become the near-universal standard for user-facing information about fixed-route public transit service in North America and many parts of the world. The open data format has grown to include real-time information, service alerts, detailed station pathway routing, and more. With GTFS now widely adopted, the focus has turned to improving the quality and detail of data that transit operators provide to riders.

During the pandemic, for example, a growing number of transit agencies added data on capacity levels to their GTFS-realtime feeds, so apps like Transit can inform riders about crowding conditions on buses. The growth and success of GTFS shows that the public transit sector deserves significant credit for leading the way with open data standards, and provides a foundation of innovation for the mobility world to build upon.

Guidance for public agencies

  • The vast majority of transit agencies in North America publish GTFS feeds, but not all follow best practices. Agencies can learn about ways to improve their GTFS feeds by reading Transit’s guide to GTFS or MobilityData’s GTFS Best Practices.
  • Some agencies don’t publish a GTFS-realtime feed, and use different API formats that are more challenging for developers to work with. Others don’t make real-time data available at all, restricting  their riders to schedule-based trip planning. Organizations like Cal-ITP are working to bring all agencies up to speed. If you don’t already publish a GTFS-realtime feed, consider doing so. 
  • Many agencies added real-time crowding information to their GTFS-realtime feeds in response to the pandemic, but this rider information is valuable even in a world without distancing and mask requirements. While all riders benefit, it’s particularly helpful to passengers who prioritize comfort and space, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and those with luggage, strollers, wheelchairs, or small children. If you don’t already, consider adding crowding and accessibility information to your agency’s feed.
  • If your transit agency or company is regularly working with GTFS, you can contribute to the community-led process facilitated by MobilityData to improve and deepen this open data standard, so GTFS continues to serve the needs of transit agencies, data providers, and riders alike. For example, there is an active GTFS-fares project to improve fare information so that it’s easier to understand what transit trips, particularly those involving transfers between multiple agencies, will cost riders.

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