Bus and train in Portland

Public transit planners throughout the nation should soon be rolling toward more informed decision making and better service thanks to a partnership between Oregon State University’s College of Engineering and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The university and state transportation officials have teamed up on an extension to the General Transit Feed Specification, commonly known as the GTFS. The extension is called GTFS-ride.

Oregon State will release open-source tools for GTFS-ride data storage and analysis sometime this fall, said J. David Porter, professor of industrial engineering at Oregon State. With those tools, planners can see in general how well transit networks are functioning and also easily access specific information about where riders tend to get on and off.

In existence for just over a decade, the GTFS defines a common data format for public transportation schedules and related geographic information. Mobile developers use the publicly available data to create applications that riders can use to learn, for example, when the next bus is arriving.

The 12-month OSU-ODOT partnership resulted in the GTFS-ride extension, which defines a common format for fixed-route transit ridership. The extension will support the creation of common tools for enhancing transit planners’ ability to analyze and share ridership data.

“The main motivation for the project was ODOT and in particular their Rail and Public Transit Division didn’t feel they had enough access to ridership data to be able to make informed decisions about funding and improvement projects,” said Porter, who teamed with Oregon State graduate students Ben Fields, Sylvan Hoover and Phillip Carleton on the project.

“GTFS-ride extends GTFS and incorporates additional files and fields for transit agencies to reflect their ridership information. It will enable agencies at many different levels of maturity and technological capability to represent ridership in a standardized way that will facilitate information sharing and the use of common software tools. Planners will be able to better understand what a change to a single network does to the entire state network.”

At present, each transit agency in Oregon uses a mix of proprietary tools and locally developed solutions to analyze and report transit ridership data; there has been no standardized format for representing ridership.

“The old way of doing things made taking advantage of and sharing transit ridership data difficult,” said Hal Gard, administrator of ODOT’s Rail and Public Transit Division. “The GTFS-ride data standard will make it possible for organizations at all levels to get easy access to detailed ridership data.”

A description of the GTFS-ride standard is available at https://github.com/ODOT-PTS/GTFS-ride/blob/master/spec/en/reference.md, and a companion open source GTFS-ride validation tool is available at https://github.com/ODOT-PTS/transitfeed-ride