Location, location, location: more important than ever

The Economist had two articles earlier this month on how street address names are receiving increased scrutiny, due to the rising value of physical location in the digital age.

Let’s repeat that, because it’s a fundamental thought that can easily be overlooked. The subtitle of the article “Getting on the map” reads.

Physical location is becoming even more important in the digital world.

The internet and related technologies have not lessened the importance of location by making things available everywhere. Rather, they’ve increased human ability to quickly and reliably take advantage of location information, assuming that information is machine-readable. One of the results is the work that now needs to be done to standardize address systems within countries. But there is much more that governments (and everyone else) will need to be thinking about as the new value of location is unpacked in coming years.

The first article above mentions the comment of a Danish minister that in the past “Addresses were treated as a mere add-on to other data” and thus never centralized. This is of course in America still the case. While the US address system has numerous effective features, addresses are certainly treated as ancillary: a recent project here at Trillium, which required the geocoding of 2500 addresses directly from a federal government database, resulted in fewer than half being properly associated with a location automatically.

The process of making GTFS data often involves such geocoding. We take a list of bus stops from an agency and use a series of tools to connect the stop names to lat/lon coordinates. Bus stop names aren’t quite addresses, but they’re essentially the public transportation equivalent. Prior to having GTFS or other GIS data, the stop name itself is the data in which location is stored, and the quality of that data makes a big difference in how easy the GTFS implementation process is.

Transit agencies can help increase the value of the stop name locational data they publish through accuracy, precision, and consistency:

  • accurate stop names use the official names of landmarks and streets
  • precise names include not only intersections but, for example, specific sides of streets
  • consistency in form of stop names allows easier adjustment and maintenance of data

The critical step to publishing the best information, though, is creating GTFS data. GTFS allows the connection of this description information with a GPS location (as well as your timetables and fares), presenting your riders with even more accurate, precise, and consistent information. The data can be read by endless online trip planners and mobile apps that your riders are already using to find their way around. Give Trillium a call if you’d like to start the process of making GTFS data today.