By Tu-Tho Thai
Open data is essential for cities looking to ensure transparency in their mobility sector. The transparency provided by open data drives collaboration between public and private stakeholders, participation among citizens, and ultimately changes that benefit society at large. The open collaboration fostered through open data creates a more innovative and efficient mobility ecosystem.
The impact of GTFS and GBFS on travellers and cities
Open data and data sharing cannot exist without standardised ways to exchange information – standards are the backbone of this thriving and efficient ecosystem. In the realm of traveller information, two open specifications have emerged from the industry and become its de facto standards.
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The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS) transform the way people get around by giving stakeholders the tools to describe the traveller’s journey consistently. This consistent representation of mobility data empowers travellers to make informed trip planning decisions. Whether it’s using GTFS to access public transit schedules or GBFS to access shared mobility options, travellers now have access to more information than ever before.
GTFS is an open data standard that allows transit agencies and operators to publicly represent information from their services through open datasets that can be used by passenger-facing applications. GTFS is used by thousands of transit agencies across the globe to make their services discoverable to many. It can describe static data, such as stop locations using GTFS Schedule, and real-time data, such as a vehicle’s position, with GTFS Realtime. Specification extensions such as GTFS-Flex allow travellers to access demand-responsive transit solutions. MobilityData’s work with flexible transit sparked community requests for better representation of other on-demand services: taxis, taxi network companies (TNCs), ride sharing, etc. To address these needs we built a working group to accelerate the development of the GOFS Project (General On-Demand Feed Specification) that led to the release of GTFS-OnDemand.
GBFS is also the de facto standard for shared mobility data, being used by hundreds of cities in 45 countries. Public GBFS application programming interfaces (APIs) allow integration of shared mobility services with public transit.
From its start as an open specification to describe shared bike services with docking stations, GBFS has come in the past five years to include free-floating services and car-sharing. The latter was the first extension led by the community, with the inclusion of cities as active participants and voters. This empowers travellers to plan multimodal journeys, reducing car use.
The impact is seen on multiple levels: it reduces the burden of collecting and analysing data from shared mobility operators, it lowers the costs of data production for those in charge of public transit, and it opens the door to different dashboard solutions that rely on open and standardised data to provide insights into citizens’ engagement and mobility. Thus mobility options become discoverable and affect travellers’ decisions. Ultimately, they help cities reach their environmental goals regarding mobility by requiring less use of private cars.
How cities can act
The future of an open mobility ecosystem depends on cities acting to promote open data sharing. Here are some ways cities can act to leverage open data in the mobility sector:
- Promote open data sharing – Cities should build an open data culture by encouraging data sharing. Whether through campaigns or events, fostering an open data culture should involve public engagement to promote the use of open data in developing new tools and services.
- Apply an open data policy – Cities should introduce rules and standards that effectively govern open data sharing. Policies requiring standardised open data can prevent cities from being locked into one vendor’s proprietary tools or services. Open, standardised data allows cities to change their operators if their needs are not being met. This also creates a transparent and innovative mobility ecosystem where stakeholders are engaged and new ideas can flourish.
Active cities have demonstrated their leverage power in the POLIS network. Some of the network’s activities are: sharing best practices among cities of all sizes, and organising working group sessions to better understand the standards and how to leverage them. The POLIS network helps cities to build sustainable mobility services for their citizens by better taking advantage of existing technology.
Be an actor of change
For cities to adequately serve travellers’ needs and increase transparency, open data sharing must be at the forefront of their efforts, especially in the mobility sector. Cities should be actors of change, encouraging a more transparent and engaged mobility sector.
Cities can get involved in MobilityData’s work by expressing their views on (and voting for) each specification extension, and by integrating our open-source tools. As a mobility industry facilitator, MobilityData’s mission is to improve traveller information. Our role is to bring together a community of stakeholders to standardise and expand data formats, and being a driving force for change in the mobility industry.
MobilityData began in 2015 as a Rocky Mountain Institute project with the mission to improve travellers’ information. It extended its mission and reach by registering as a Canadian non-profit in 2019, and as a French one in 2021. With over 20 employees worldwide, MobilityData brings together and supports international mobility stakeholders such as transport agencies, software vendors, mobility apps, and cities to standardise and expand data formats such as GTFS and GBFS for public transport and shared mobility. MobilityData acts as an industry facilitator, creating opportunities for strengthened interoperability while assisting the industry’s rapid transformation through training and tools. Learn more on mobilitydata.org.