In 2005, TriMet (Portland, OR), along with Google, was one of the first public agencies to try and tackle the problem of online transit trip planners through the use of open datasets that are shared with the general public (How Google and Portland’s TriMet Set the Standard for Open Transit Data in Streetsblog SF). They worked together to format transit data into an easily maintainable and consumable format that could be imported into Google Maps. This transit data format was originally known as the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). In 2010, the format was retitled – General Transit Feed Specification – to accurately represent its use in many different applications.
GTFS data is used by various public and private software applications for purposes that include trip planning, timetable creation, data visualization, planning, mobile data, and realtime information systems. This format was conceived to meet specific, practical needs in communicating service information to passengers, not as an exhaustive vocabulary for managing operational details. It was designed to be relatively simple to create and read for both people and machines, provide a useful way to publish data for wider consumption in consumer applications, and used internationally.
Public transportation is more useful when people can easily find out whether the service can take them where they want to go, at the time they want to travel, with the items they need to have with them, and once scheduled, whether that vehicle is going to arrive as planned.
Technology plays a key role in conveying highly detailed and specific information to riders about schedules, routes, and the real-time status of the service in ways that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Behind the scenes, these innovations are possible in large part because of the development of transit-specific data standards. By creating rules for what information must be included and how it is to be formatted, standards lay the groundwork for both producers (transit agencies) and consumers of data (for example, app developers) to build systems that can dramatically increase insight into complex transit networks.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Public Transportation Division (PTD), has promoted and invested in the use of GTFS for over a decade. This work recognizes the need for having accurate, standardized transit data available to the public. Oregon fixed route transit GTFS is available at: www.Oregon-gtfs.com.
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