With access to improved transit data feeds, riders are able to make better-informed travel decisions; agencies preserve and grow ridership and improve their planning and operations capacity; and third-party trip-planning apps are able to offer a more seamless travel experience to an expanded user base.
Each of these outcomes is a win for riders, yet despite this, data programs at most public agencies lag behind industry best practice. Implementation of existing data specifications is inconsistent, with many agencies releasing low-quality data that makes travel more difficult for transit riders in every app.
Absent champions in senior leadership, data departments lack the resources necessary to do more than maintain the same data the agency has been relying on for years, while the rest of the transportation industry is undergoing rapid, iterative technological change.
With this change comes opportunity, and strong alignment between public and private sector goals creates opportunities for symbiotic collaborations. This alignment is embedded in the history of transit data specifications, as the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and its GTFS-realtime extension have been built on a rich history of public-private collaboration.
These specifications have evolved over time, but not fast enough to meet the needs of transit riders and practitioners in both public and private sectors.
Data producers (transit agencies) and transit application developers (private companies) need to develop a set of actionable, shared priorities that will enable transit data specifications and their implementations to match the needs of transit riders today. This was the motivation behind an October 2017 workshop hosted jointly by TransitCenter and Rocky Mountain Institute, which brought together a diverse group of public and private stakeholders to start setting a new agenda for transit data specifications and compiling best practices for their implementation. RMI and TransitCenter, in collaboration with transit data producers and application developers, aim to continue to carry this agenda forward through a combination of digital and in-person convenings, peer-reviewed research, and development of improved data specifications and open-source software.