Trillium Blog

News and commentary about transit and online information from Trillium

GTFS isn’t just information—it’s marketing

Many public transit agencies use a Google trip planning widget on their website homepage to provide easy access to schedules without the need to wade through timetables. It’s clear in this way that GTFS data—the data that feeds not just Google’s trip planner, but basically every online trip planner—is great for customer information. It has gone from unknown to commonplace in less than 10 years.

However, GTFS isn’t just a convenient tool for your current riders—it also brings in new riders.

Trillium manages both GTFS and websites for public transit agencies, putting us in a convenient position to look at how users interact with agencies online. Recently, we’ve been investigating how web-traffic originating from the url fields within GTFS feeds performs on public transit websites.

The result: GTFS provides high quality sales leads for your agency.

In a survey over one month looking at over 130,000 total website hits on 12 public transit websites, we found that nearly 1% of total website traffic actually originated from GTFS files. That may not sound all that impressive, but that’s just the beginning. Of the website sessions that originated from GTFS links, users were 58% more likely to be new visitors, were 27% less likely to “bounce” off the website, visited 32% more pages, and spent 37% more time on the site.

For smaller agencies (those with fewer than 10,000 hits per month), GTFS provided even more traffic. 1.4% of total website traffic came from GTFS referrals. While smaller agencies were already much more likely to have new visitors, they still saw a 16% increase in the new visitor rate from GTFS. GTFS users were 34% less likely to bounce and visited 29% more pages.

In other words, GTFS doesn’t just bring users to your website, it brings new users who want to find out more about your service to your website.

GTFS puts tomorrow’s riders on your bus. Make sure they catch their ride.

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GTFS from day one

Exciting developments from Colorado, not just for public transit technology there, but for all users of Google Transit:

On July 13, Bustang, a new intercity service managed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, will begin running three lines to and from Denver. Your commute from Colorado Springs or Loveland, and those long weekend trips to Vail, are about to get a lot easier.

That’s the good news for Coloradans and visitors. But there’s also good news for transit technology geeks.

For the first time we know of, a totally new public transit service will be available in Google Maps before it hits the road. Check it out: you can plan your July 13th trip from Colorado Springs to Denver right now. This isn’t just a new express line or local route from a service already live in Google Maps. This is a totally new service, and the feed went live before the service started running.

Seems to us that this is how trip planners should work–especially for great intercity routes like these. Being in Google Maps and other trip planners is a great way for the public to test out how a new service will change how they can get around. We’re looking forward to a day when every new transit service that starts up can be discovered in online trip planners before it even runs.

But for now, Colorado is the hotspot. Planning a trip there this summer? Want to see how your commute could improve? Go to Google Maps and find out now.

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Updates to the Google Maps interface bring rider info up front

Google has shown a lot of dedication over the years to keeping the presentation of transit options in Google Maps looking current, and providing quality information in an easy to use format. Trillium is happy to say we’ve made a few suggestions that have been incorporated.

The changes released today brought a lot more key information to the fore, and did so in a way that remains easily readable.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.19.55 PM
  • Fares are presented immediately
  • Total walking time is presented immediately
  • First stop name and time of departure is presented immediately
  • The “More options” button now reads “Schedule explorer”, reflecting the ability of the rider to dig in to the full menu of transit possibilities.
That departure time information is really useful when you have a bit of a walk to the bus stop. Up front frequency information let’s you know what the setback will be if you miss the scheduled ride.
 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.23.06 PM
Thanks, Google! These changes are a big win for key transit service information online.
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Rural and intercity transit—the wheels are turning

Aaron and I both attended the 21st National Rural & Intercity Bus Transportation Conference October 26 to 29 in Monterey, CA. For both Aaron, who’s been in this industry for now over 7 years, and for myself, being new to public transit last year, this conference was monumental. We were invigorated by the work being done across the country by agencies and departments large and small to bring greater mobility to the residents of the United States. We were also excited by centrality that technology, accessibility, and rider-centricity were given by all conference participants. These three themes were put front-and-center by a number of presenters, and the dialogue around them revealed just how hard rural transit operators are working to provide the best services they can with often limited resources.

Expanding service

Three state DOT leaders spoke at the Getting Here from There session to talk about the programs they’ve put forth in recent years to expand intercity networks on a state level. Dave Pelletier of Vermont demonstrated the need of thorough study and planning in order to highlight the missing links in current service and discover the opportunities that they offer, as well as the necessity of public commitment to supporting those services. Kyle Emge of Massachusetts showed how thinking beyond administrative borders to consider regional travel-sheds produces a more rider-centric transit experience. Shaun Morrell of Minnesota spoke to the directions that rural and intercity transit can move once a wide net has been set to provide transit to most residents. All three speakers at the session revealed the degree to which public-private partnerships can be used to leverage limited public resources to the greatest public benefit. Through creative—and competitive—financing, all three states have shown that there is a strong undercurrent of demand for intercity transit.

Transit for all

Rural and intercity transit often provides unique challenges for communities th– on public transit the most—disabled Americans. Bennett Powell and Jason Quan of KFH Group, Inc. gave an enlightening presentation detailing the struggles of examining bus stop accessibility. They highlighted in particular that a bus stop must not be an island, but rather a port. To have an accessible bus stop with no access to the residences or businesses it is meant to serve does little to provide mobility to disabled community members. Polly Chapman of Trinity Transit in California gave a related perspective in the same session, Through the Front Door. She reminded us that stop accessibility along some rural routes is not as easy as writing state administrative rules. Bus stop upgrades can be expensive and, unless done strategically, might not provide any substantial service improvement. There is a risk of building “bus stops to nowhere” which must be mitigated in order to maximize the return on funds.

Rider-centric technology

Riders are coming to expect transit agencies to be responsive not only to their needs, but responsive their their preferences. Riders want to be met on their own terms, and to be able to find transit information through the media on which they are most comfortable. As more rural residents and intercity travelers come online not only at home, but through mobile devices, rural and intercity carriers have learned quickly in the last few years that transit technology provides as many advantages for rural systems as it does for urban ones. Aaron moderated the session Changes in On-Board Communication Technology in which we learned of the impressive progress made by Richard Tree at Porterville Transit by adapting new technologies like the Google Transit trip planner and real-time vehicle location technologies. In all, four other sessions included the word technology in their title: the entire national rural and intercity transit network is awash in dialogue about how to use technology to provide better and more efficient services.

We’re excited to see where all those discussions lead—the possibilities are just beginning to be elaborated.

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