Public transit agencies in France and the state of California have begun using an open-source software tool created at USF that quickly detects errors in a transit agency’s real-time data – providing travelers with more accurate information through mobile mapping applications, such as Google and Apple Maps.
The General Transit Feed Specification Realtime (GTFS Realtime) has become the dominant open data format for public transit timetables and associated geographic information, allowing transit agencies to publish their data in a standard format that can be easily used by a wide variety of travel planning apps. .
The GTFS Realtime Validator tool was created by Sean Barbeau, Senior Mobile Software Architect for Research and Development at the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research.
“It’s exciting to see a tool we’ve developed being used to validate hundreds of transit data streams around the world,” Barbeau said. “This will help detect errors earlier, which will result in a much better experience for travelers using public transport.”
“The French National Access Point promotes high-quality open data, and the GTFS real-time validator helps make that vision a reality,” said Antoine Augusti, Senior Software Engineer at the French National Access Point for Transport Data. “Our team has already highlighted some errors and possible improvements with several transport authorities. This is a considerable advantage for citizens and people traveling to France.
GFTS Realtime serves as the counterpart to transit agencies’ GPS systems – helping to provide real-time updates on arrival times, location, and service alerts. Studies show that real-time transit information improves the reliability and efficiency of passenger travel through shorter perceived and actual waiting times at transit stops – providing an increased sense of safety – and reduce the learning curve for new users. Some transit agencies that deployed real-time information reported increased ridership and improved public perception, even though their service offerings had not changed.
Although public transport is more economical and profitable, Barbeau has found that users only consider it a reliable option if the transport agencies provide accurate data. He and his team realized that without the ability to identify and resolve issues in real time, errors often affect the system, resulting in reduced traffic.
Barbeau saw this happen while working with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to launch the OneBusAway app, as well as with the USF Bull Runner bus system and with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
USF now partners with the nonprofit organization MobilityData to maintain and further improve the software and standardize its use worldwide.
“In our mission to improve data quality and encourage the use of standardized data, we are proud to host and maintain the GTFS Real-Time Validator in the future, in collaboration with the GTFS community”, said Isabelle de Robert, High Quality Data Product Manager at MobilityData. “It’s a great addition to our existing tools, and we’re proud to see its impact on travellers.”
“CUTR’s commitment to open source software has allowed us to easily pick up, contribute to, and enhance the validator to deliver meaningful data to California’s more than 200 fixed-route transit agencies,” Hunter said. Owens, research data manager for the California Department of Transport. “We look forward to the continued partnership and use of the package as it transitions to its new permanent home at MobilityData, a global standards body.”
Barbeau sees this work as the beginning of improving real-time transit information.
“Transit agencies often don’t have the technical expertise to analyze these flows internally, so scaling resources like the GTFS real-time validator to the state level makes a lot of sense and ultimately saves public agencies time and money,” Barbeau said. “These tools could establish a baseline validation experience at more transit agencies, so we can have a data-driven approach to tracking improvement in real-time transit information over time.”