About This Project

Making it easier for people to gain full access to specialized transportation services

Project Background and Purpose

Public transportation is more useful when people can easily find out whether the service can take them where they want to go, at the time they want to travel, with the items they need to have with them, and once they’re waiting, whether that vehicle is going to arrive as planned.

Technology now plays a key role in conveying highly detailed and easily personalizable information to riders about schedules, routes, and the real-time status of the service in ways that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

Behind the scenes, these innovations are possible in large part because of the development of transit-specific data standards. By setting down rules for what information must be included and how it is to be formatted, standards lay the groundwork for both producers (transit agencies) and the consumers of data (for example, app developers) to build systems that can dramatically increase insight into complex transit networks.

The earliest focus for transit data standards was transit aimed at the general public: buses, trains, and ferries that run on fixed routes and fixed schedules. Over time, additional data standards have made it possible for providers of more flexible types of transportation (dial-a-ride services, for example) to begin to disseminate information to riders more easily.

A significant gap in data standards exists in the realm of specialized transportation. Broadly defined, “specialized transportation” has some kind of limitation based on rider eligibility, or who is allowed to use the service. On top of these eligibility factors, there can also be restrictions based on eligible trip purpose, or the reason for taking a trip. These eligibility factors, which are numerous and often locally specific, are not yet captured in existing data standards.

Compared to generalized public transit, specialized transportation often needs to accommodate a wider range of mobility devices. Some specialized transportation involves picking riders up directly at their residences (possibly even providing them with assistance getting from their home to the vehicle) and dropping them off at their destination (again, with the possibility of assistance disembarking). As with eligibility factors, there is considerable variation in service capability and data standards are not yet available for this information.

There’s an impact to the absence of data standards describing this complex world of rider eligibility and service capability: The people who rely on specialized transportation have to work harder to plan how they will move through the world, whether they are going to work, medical appointments, the grocery store, or anywhere else they choose to go.

This project will examine and address the potential for technology to fill this gap.

Project Description

GTFS-eligibilities and GTFS-capabilities are new data standards in development. When complete, they will describe the many factors that can determine access to transit services, particularly specialized transportation services.

These standards will fill a pressing need for a standardized and computer-readable ways to describe rider eligibility and service provider capacity. GTFS-eligibilities will deal with how a person’s individual characteristics (e.g., age, disability status, residence, employment, or registration in a program) may affect their access to public transportation services. GTFS-capabilities will describe a transportation provider’s ability to meet a rider’s needs (e.g., whether the provider offers services such as door-to-door service, door-through-door service, stretcher service, mobility device accommodation, and bariatric capability). Such information is currently available to the public in analog or one-off digital formats only. This absence creates a range of unnecessary difficulties:

  • Discovering services is labor-intensive, often with the burden falling on riders themselves to figure out what exists, whether they qualify for a specific type of transportation, and whether a provider can meet their service needs.
  • It’s difficult for transit agencies to communicate their services, especially specialized services, to the public.
  • It also adds barriers to planners, policymakers, and researchers understanding how eligibility factors and agencies’ ability to provide specialized services affect different populations’ mobility.

An expert panel, with members from human service organizations, transit agencies, and transit software companies, will create GTFS-eligibilities and GTFS-capabilities as new draft extensions to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data standard. The panel’s work centers on ensuring that the standards being defined meet the needs of riders and the agencies that serve them, while also being technically sound. Once complete, the draft extensions will be made available for adoption by implementers and ongoing oversight by the appropriate standards body.

This project is being carried out by Full Path Transit Technology, under contract with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), with funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility for All Pilot Program. The effort is a continuation of ODOT’s ongoing work to support the accessibility and usefulness of transit services through open data and address equity goals laid out in the Oregon Public Transportation Plan. The project team (ODOT and Full Path) is committed to inclusive, equitable engagement; feedback on how the team can do better in these areas is enthusiastically welcomed.