• 4 June 2024
  • Data

Open Data Standard for Better Public Transport – The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)

Effective transport planning is crucial for developing sustainable and inclusive cities. In urban mobility, data empowers planners and policymakers to make well-informed decisions. The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) plays a key role in making public transport data accessible, thereby enhancing transport-related decision-making.

At its essence, GTFS is fundamentally about enhancing the public transport experience. How? Read on to learn more about this data standard for better public transport.


What is GTFS?

The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is an open standard used to distribute relevant information about transit systems to riders. It allows public transit agencies to publish their transit data in a format that can be consumed by a wide variety of software applications.

GTFS is used by over 10,000 transit operators worldwide to share their data with trip planning applications. It has, since it’s introduction in 2006, quickly become the industry standard. GTFS is an open standard. It allows anyone to propose changes and vote on adopting new features. This ensures that GTFS is evolving with the needs of its users.

How it originated

GTFS was initially developed by Google in collaboration with various U.S. cities – the first city being Portland – as a standardized format for machine-readable timetable data.

Back in 2005, Google Maps offered route planning exclusively for cars. During 2005 and 2006, the first cities began providing Google with transit timetable data, enabling public transport routing on the platform. This collaboration between Google and public transportation services led to the creation of a standardized format. In 2006, Google released GTFS (originally called Google Transit Feed Specification). By 2009, GTFS was “un-Googled”, resulting in the current name, General Transit Feed Specification. GTFS quickly became a widely adopted standard for machine-readable timetable data.

In 2011, GTFS-RT (Real-Time) was introduced to extend the standard to include real-time data. Today, it is the de facto standard for transit data, used by over 10,000 transit operators in more than 100 countries.

Components of GTFS Data

GTFS is a simple, text-based open standard, allowing agencies to provide information using a variety of tools, including basic text editors or spreadsheets. This ensures that it can be easily accessed and shared.

A GTFS feed is a collection of text files that describe a transit service. This feed can be used by platforms such as Google, Open Trip Planner, Apple, and even custom apps.

The Static GTFS Feed offers comprehensive data that can be enhanced with additional information or third-party extensions. This includes spatial data (such as stops and shapes), temporal data (such as trips, stop times, and routes), and additional files for calendars, frequencies, and transfers. These datasets can be further enriched with data on agency information, feed details, and transfers. Extensions like GTFS Real-Time provide real-time updates on delays or restrictions, GTFS Static with fare data helps calculate ticket prices, and GTFS Flex allows the different forms of on-demand offers to be displayed.

High-quality GTFS data is complete, accurate, and up-to-date. It is accurately reflecting present service operations and providing as much information as possible. Outdated data can be almost worse than no data at all, as it align with what riders see and experience. Many large transit agencies update their GTFS weekly or daily. Most agencies update their GTFS every few months, typically when there are service changes like new routes or stops, timetable adjustments, or fare structure modifications.

Insights from GTFS data

GTFS is a success story of a new cooperation between a single public agency (namely Portland’s TriMet) and Google. Having up-to-date and high-quality data provides accurate transit information not just to riders, but to planners and policymakers who are able to better understand how transit is being used in their communities.

GTFS data offers insights into various aspects of public transport, answering questions such as:

  • How does service quality change during off-peak hours and weekends?
  • What is the overall public transport mix in my city?
  • Which areas have good connectivity, and where can improvements be made?
  • How well does public transport connect communities?
  • How does public transit travel time compare to driving?

The availability of GTFS data has sparked innovation worldwide and developers are getting creative and are expanding its use, leading to the development of diverse software applications for many different purposes, including data visualization and analysis tool for planning.

Introducing the TUMI GTFS Analyzer

The TUMI GTFS Analyzer leverages digital transit scheduling data using the GTFS standard to assess and enhance public transport services in various cities. The tool connects directly to the TUMI Mobility Data Hub enabling automatic screening of data sourced from the platform. With minimal input parameters, the tool facilitates a range of analyses. These include assessing the spatial distribution of stops, service quality, departure frequencies, identification of areas with inadequate service (white spots), and times of low and high frequency.



Check out the TUMI GTFS Analyzer here.

And explore more about its features in our Factsheet.

For further mobility data for cities worldwide, visit the TUMI Mobility Data Hub.

And lastly, to dive deeper into the GTFS data standard, we recommend you check out mobiltydata.org.