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Expanding GTFS

Expanding the Google Transit Data Feed Specification to Support Operations and Planning
Record Type: UTC, DOT 

The primary goal of the project is to identify how the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data can be leveraged to further assist transit agencies with business activities such as service planning and operations. Achieving this goal requires three efforts; an inventory of how transit agencies and software developers are expanding the utility of the GTFS, identification of applications with the greatest impact on the transit community, and the development of a prototype application that incorporates the GTFS and supports additional business functions within a transit agency.
Start date: 2009/7
End date: 2011/6/15
Status: Active
Contract/Grant Number: BDK85 977-15
Secondary Number: 77902
Total Dollars: 98794
Source Organization: Florida Department of Transportation
Date Added: 09/24/2009
Index Terms: Public transit, Google (Firm), Data collection, Quality of service, Transportation operations, Transportation planning, Research projects, 

Project Title:  Expanding the Google Transit Data Feed Specification to Support Operations and Planning

Principal Investigator:

Martin Catalá, Senior Research Associate
Phone: 813-974-9791


Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Fax: 813-974-5168 

External Project Contact:

Daniel Harris
Florida Department of Transportation
(850) 414-4532

I.  Start and End Dates

Start Date:  July 2009               Expected End Date: January 2011 

I.  Project Objective/Problem Statement

The development of Google’s free on-line transit trip planner has been one of the most exciting developments in transit for many years.  Transit agencies that store trip information into a specific file format (the Google Transit Feed Specification) and forward the data to Google’s transit team will have a robust, recognizable on-line trip planner for free.  But perhaps equally exciting is the impact of the open data architecture, which is not hidden under the veil of proprietary software and has spurred many other developments including extending the usefulness of the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).  One clear example is the development of an Open Source application, TimeTable Publisher, developed by TriMet in Portland, Oregon. Anyone using the GTFS is able create transit timetables in print and web formats using TimeTable publisher.  FTA is promoting the use of TimeTable Publisher through the development of a webinar.  Additional examples of applications built off the GTFS data, include the development of transit planning mobile applications including an IPhone application and a text messaging application.  Also, more traditional GIS desktop applications are using the GTFS, with the development of an ESRI data model for the GTFS.  Given the growing utilization of the GTFS data, this research project proposes an examination of opportunities and existing uses of the GTFS and developing a data schema and application that will help leverage the GTFS data to further benefit transit agencies.  Since the primary purpose of the Google Transit application is to better communicate with the customer, this project will focus on using the GTFS to support service planning and operation business activities. 

II.  Objectives/Tasks

The primary goal of the project is to identify how the Google Transit Feed Specification data can be leveraged to further assist transit agencies with business activities such as service planning and operations.  Achieving this goal requires two efforts; an inventory of how transit agencies and software developers are expanding the utility of the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and the development of a data schema that incorporates the GTFS and supports additional business functions within a transit agency. 

It is important to note, that the goal of the project is not to change the Google transit specification.  The project team will communicate with the Google Transit team during this project to better understand the feed specification.  Changes to the specification may be a by product of this effort but it is not the primary goal. 

Task 1:  Project Management

This task will deal with on-going management activities of the project, preparing progress reports, and reviewing and editing final deliverables. 

Task 2:  Literature Review and Case Studies

A review of the research and literature of on-line transit trip planners will be conducted to examine how the trip planning transit data are being used for operations and planning.  The disciplines of information and geo-spatial technologies are at the core of these activities within a transit agency.  Consequently, this research will also examine (minimally) how these technologies and disciplines are being used at transit agencies. 

Case Studies 

Transit Agency Case Studies 

Transit agencies using Google Transit offer a great deal of insight on the challenges to implementation.  These agencies may reveal a roadmap for how to implement Google transit at their agency. 

Inventory of GTFS Applications and Opportunities 

Given that the Google Transit Feed Specification is an open data architecture and is not hidden under the veil of proprietary software it has spurred the development of many other software applications which extends the usefulness of the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).  An inventory of these applications will illustrate the power of an open data architecture and the opportunity it presents for the transit industry. 

Examples such as TriMet’s TimeTable Publisher is a high profile example of a transit agency extending the utility of the GTFS, however, other agencies and software developers may be extending the usefulness of the data but are not programmatically developing open source applications as TriMet has done.  Consequently, there may be equally significant applications that are being used internally within transit agencies and developed by private developers.  A review of agencies using Google Transit will assist with identifying such opportunities. 

There are 50 plus North American transit agencies currently employing the Google Transit web application, this task will inventory of how and if the data is being used for other purposes. Additionally, an inventory of applications developed by private developers and research institutions will be conducted to better understand the opportunities available from using the GTFS. 

Recognizing that the GTFS was developed for a single purpose, there are most probably inherent limitations of the GTFS as it pertains to operations and planning within a transit agency.   The inventory will also document the limits of the GTFS and difficulties associated with working with this data set as well as potential opportunities. 

Task 3: Examining Additional Business Application of GTFS

Given the robust nature of the GTFS data it can possibly support several additional business functions; including but not limited to customer service, bus stop inventory management and service planning.  A thorough review of the data elements of the GTFS and the potential business applications will be examined in this task and used in Task 4 to develop and expand a data schema to support these business applications.  Some examples may include: 

Integration with AVL applications 

Automatic Vehicle Locator technologies can be used to show “real-time” location of bus information.  This technology is already being utilized as part of “mash-up” applications and Google’s mapping applications.  Integration with the GTFS can help communicate to the public as well as transit managers. 

Integration with APC Applications 

Automatic Passenger Counters (APC) can be used to support service planning and other business decisions.  The data obtained from APC recorders can be integrated with the GTFS and used for visualizing performance data, such as on-time performance, load capacity and overall activity. 

Integration with mobile devices 

Mobile devices are quickly evolving as a tool for accessing data from the internet.  To this end several programming efforts are being undertaken to make the Google Transit application available through mobile devices such as the cell phone. 

Web-based Stop Inventory and Management applications 

With desktop and mobile internet devices communicating with the internet, applications capable of displaying transit data are able to allow editing and querying opportunities which may support a stop inventory and management system which works with the Google Transit Feed Specification. 

National Transit Database reporting  

The responsibilities and obligations of transit agencies to report to multiple agencies is a significant burden to transit agencies.  The data from the GTFS may support such activities.  In particular, the NTD reporting agencies could be streamlined to assist agencies with this obligation. 

Task 4: Development of a Data Schema to Support Additional Transit Business Applications

Given the findings in Task 3 a data schema will be developed and prototypes will be developed for the testing the data schema, to support the identified business applications.  The data schema prototypes will coordinate with transit agencies willing to work with the project team. 

Task 5:  Implementation of Applications Using the Data Schema Prototype

Working with transit agencies and other organizations the new prototype data schema will be developed and tested to support additional business opportunities identified in task 3.  The full details of this application are still to be known, but at a minimum the application will include the ability to read and write to the GTFS.   This task will include a consultation with the project team about the direction of the application prototype. 

Task 6:  Report Findings

The report findings will be organized into three sections.  The first section will document the opportunities which the GTFS data presents for transit agencies and techniques for leveraging the GTFS to assist transit agencies.  The second section will document the developed data schema and how the implementation of the schema expanded the use of the GTFS data.  The final section of this task will address any difficulties and limitations of the GTFS and Google Transit.  The findings will be combined into a publication for printing and distribution (i.e., PDF).

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