GTFS-ride for transit ridership data: Learning from the GTFS Example

To develop shared languages for interoperable transit data, the question we face is not just how to invent data formats, but how to create standards and the systems around them. People ask “How can we have success on the scale of GTFS without Google?” This is an important question that state departments of transportation (DOTs), in collaboration with other governments and organizations, might play a role in answering.

The reason the GTFS story is so compelling is that it provides a concrete and wildly successful real world example of starting with a data format and in ten years transitioning to a data standard used worldwide by thousands of transit providers and hundreds of software applications with great benefit to all.

The main ingredients to this success were pretty simple:

  1. An open data format – GTFS
  2. A compelling value proposition – if you create GTFS you can have free door to door trip planning -> Google Transit
  3. Software developer/data creator feedback cycle – the data format and data in that format create a compelling business opportunity for software developers, whose software provides more value for data creators, which incentivizes the creation of more data, which provides more value to software developers…

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon State University (OSU) have developed an extension to GTFS for storing fixed-route transit ridership data, GTFS-ride. This is an open specification with the goal of improving ridership data collection, storing, sharing, reporting, and analysis. Related work will attempt to use the lessons of GTFS to gain, over time, broad adoption of the GTFS-ride data standard.

The GTFS-ride project plans to:

  1. Create an open data format – GTFS-ride (completed)
  2. Create open source software tools – that provide immediate value for transit providers that create GTFS-ride data (ongoing)
  3. Encourage software vendors to support GTFS-ride (starting)
  4. Encourage Oregon transit providers that receive funding from ODOT to create and maintain GTFS-ride data (future)

GTFS is a model for success with transport data specs (and also offers a few cautions in the case of some of its governance slowness). Here is a retrospective of 12 years of GTFS: Life and Growth of Transportation Data Standards – Lessons from 12 Years of GTFS.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.