- Author: Laurel Schwartz
- Date: August 15, 2023
In NW PA, the Crawford Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has been working with Pennsylvania state transportation agency PennDot to develop…
In this series, we’ve covered what open data is, how it’s part of our everyday lives, and the important relationship between open data and data standards. The gist of these prior posts comes down to this: When you share a common language, a lot more becomes possible. Let’s take a look at what standards and open data have done for transit and what’s still to come.
Given that the most familiar data about transit for the public are timetables for fixed-route schedules, it’s not surprising that open data’s impact on transit began with this type of information. In 2005, Google and TriMet, the transit agency in Portland, Oregon, co-created what is now known as the General Transit Feed Specification, or GTFS. At first, it was called the Google Transit Feed Specification, but the name was changed in 2009 as the specification was embraced far beyond its initial developer.
GTFS describes fixed-route transit in terms of all the factors that affect schedules: agencies, routes, trips, stops, stop times, fares, and holidays. TriMet and Google worked together to develop this data standard so that the agency’s data could be shared with Google and then incorporated into Google Maps. Other agencies were encouraged to provide their data in this format. With this data available, users can plan trips within what’s now called the Google Transit application.
As transit information became available on Google Maps, other groups promptly saw opportunities. App developers, urbanists, planners, and policymakers began creating new tools that leverage open data. For example:
More examples of GTFS-consuming applications can be found at the Transitwiki website.
In short, the initial partnership between Google and TriMet created a virtuous cycle. The development of tools that make data more useful results in greater demand for data and improvements to the specification. As more and better data become available, more and better software tools are developed. This is the ecosystem that open data can foster.
While fixed-route schedules were a compelling place to start standardizing transit data, it’s far from the only such area where standards can bring value. In the next post in this series, we’ll explore how the ecosystem started by the GTFS is expanding and tackling increasingly complex data challenges.
Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (email@example.com).
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