When Google added transit directions to its Maps, it also created a format that allows any transit agency to be included. To date, over 400 have made their routes, schedules and fares available for the search giant using the GTFS feed format. As we lamented previously, very few of those feeds are available publicly. One developer decided to try and fix that and help transit agencies at the same time.
Jehiah Czebotar, with feedback from the GTFS community, created GTFS Data Exchange. The site encourages agencies to open up and makes it easier for developers to get access to the data. Czebotar, who by day works for URL shortener bit.ly (our bit.ly API profile), sees it foremost as a developer tool. Advocating for open data is a side effect of the main purpose. “Its only tool for advocacy is highlighting which agencies do have data, in order to put pressure on others,” Czebotar said in an email.
He also recently helped launch City-Go-Round, a gallery of transit apps that also maintains an accounting of which agencies have publicly available GTFS feeds. According to that site, 91 of 751 agencies it lists publish a GTFS feed.
Czebotar points out that the number of open agencies has increased dramatically in the last year. In that sense, the direction open transit data is moving is more important than where it is.
Still, are there any good reasons for an agency not to open up? “One big thing that is keeping agencies from releasing data is the idea that they need to ensure and guarantee the correctness of every application that uses their data, in order to make sure riders don’t receive bad/outdated info,” Czebotar said. It’s easy to imagine, then, why agencies trust Google and not your average developer.
GTFS Data Exchange helps with this concern by providing an easy way for developers to be notified when there are changes to a feed. There’s nothing forcing developers to pick up the latest feed, other than a desire to keep their applications current.
Another way to help avoid bad data would be a single API to interface with the publicly-available transit data. But Czeboatar says it won’t be him who creates it. “The best I can do is make the data available to enable something like that to be possible.”
Well, considering the state of open transit data, that’s pretty good.
Hat tip: O’Reilly Radar