Google and Portland TriMet developed the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) as a standardized format for sharing public transit data. They launched it on December 7, 2005, for the public transportation system of Portland, USA. The public transit industry, government agencies, and app developers use GTFS to present transit routes to the general public as well as for planning and modeling.
GTFS allows transit agencies to share their schedules, routes, stops, and other information in a standard format. This allows developers to use this data to create transit apps and services, such as trip planners, real-time arrival displays, and more.
A key benefit of GTFS is that it allows interoperability between different transit systems. This means a single app can tap transit information for subways, buses, trains, and even ferries and present an optimized trip using these different transit modes and how and where to transfer from one mode to another.
Mobile apps such as Google and Apple Maps use GTFS to greatly simplify commuting, providing the commuter comprehensive information on the public transit routes they need to ride to get to their destination. It is particularly useful for tourists who are often unfamiliar with the language and modes of transportation available in the cities and countries they are visiting. For cities like Tokyo, Paris, or London, where public transportation is significantly cheaper than taxis, GTFS-powered apps allow tourists to independently navigate the city with confidence.
The static GTFS protocol consists of several comma separated values (csv) files that model the transit routes in a city or country. Typical information required includes the geographic locations of stops, the paths/routes of the buses/trains/ferries/etc., travel times, trip schedules, frequency of the trips (also called the headway), and fare data. These files are then uploaded to map applications such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, or the open source Open Trip Planner to generate multi-modal trip plans.
For technical information on how to create GTFS files visit: https://developers.google.com/transit/gtfs/reference or download this powerpoint.
GTFS Realtime (GTFS-RT) is an extension of GTFS that gives transit agencies the capability to provide real time updates about their fleet. Information such as expected time of arrival, trip delays/cancellations, service alerts/notifications, and vehicle location can be provided using GTFS-RT. GTFS-RT makes use of Protocol Buffers, a language-neutral, platform-neutral, mechanism to serialize structured data in a much smaller file size, making its transmission faster and more efficient. GTFS-RT as a standard is not yet as widely adopted as static GTFS, with a number of transit agencies offering their own format for sharing real time data as well as ‘rival’ formats such as Service Interface for Real Time Information (SIRI). GTFS RT also presents more complex challenges than providing static GTFS as the element of ‘speed’ comes into play and management of server resources, latency, and software efficiency is critical.
For technical information on how to create GTFS-RT Feeds visit https://developers.google.com/transit/gtfs-realtime or download this powerpoint.
GTFS in the Philippines
With a project funded by the World Bank, the The Philippine Transportation Industry adopted GTFS over 10 years ago. This created a comprehensive model of jeepneys, buses, and trains in Metro Manila (feed is available for download here). Almost in parallel, EACOMM was commissioned by Google to develop a GTFS feed for Metro Manila, which was launched by Google Maps in 2012 starting with LRT, MRT and PNR data.
Over the years, EACOMM further expanded the GTFS feed to include:
- Inter-city buses that terminate in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao
- Ferry data on select roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ports nationwide
- City bus data for Metro Manila
- Jeepney data for Cebu and Davao
During this time as well, EACOMM was tapped to develop GTFS static and real-time feeds for Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, and Queensland in Australia.
In 2013, the Department of Transportation launched the Transit App Challenge to encourage Filipino app developers to develop solutions that utilize the World Bank GTFS data. The contest spawned the creation of a number of trip planning apps, the most popular of which was Sakay.ph. Having had experience in GTFS already, EACOMM entered the competition and won the “Best Transit App” award for its entry, TripBarker.
To date, EACOMM has continuously worked with Google Maps and other app providers to provide up-to-date GTFS data for Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other cities in the country.
Bus Management Information System
From 2014 to 2017, EACOMM worked with the Department of Transportation to develop a prototype Bus Management Information System (BMIS). The system required public utility vehicles to be equipped with a GPS device that periodically transmitted their location via a cellular modem to a central server. The system was designed to allow the Department of Transportation and its attached agency, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, to remotely monitor buses and detect violations such as overspeeding and out-of-line (the bus is not plying its assigned route). A few years later, this evolved into the Central Public Utility Vehicle Monitoring System, which was launched in 2021. The CPUVMS is envisioned to actively monitor real-time data from not only buses but all types of public transportation (jeeps, taxis, UV Express, etc.). Both the BMIS and CPUVMS utilized GTFS heavily in defining routes and paths for the various transit modes. As part of the CPUVMS, the LTFRB is also actively plotting all transit routes in the Philippines in GTFS to provide the government with a better tool for route planning.
The Future of GTFS in the Philippines
The COVID quarantine radically changed the landscape of public transportation in Metro Manila. Major route changes in Metro Manila buses were done, the most visible of which is the consolidation of EDSA buses into the EDSA Bus Carousel. Throughout the pandemic, EACOMM worked to quickly modify the GTFS feed for the Philippines to reflect the new bus routes as well as disable any non-operating routes.
The next stage of our effort would be to expand the information in the Philippine GTFS feed, such as by providing information on the larger terminals and stops. For example, very soon your favorite transit app will be able to tell you the location of the stairs you need to go up on to head to your designated MRT platform or where to find the buses going to Batangas City are located inside the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX). We are very excited to add to the GTFS feed new train, LRT, MRT, and subway lines as they become available to the public in the upcoming years. We are also looking to include fare data on more transit routes to give better information to commuters. Finally, we’re looking to develop a GTFS-RT feed based on data received by the CPUVMS, which would allow the public to know when to expect the next bus to arrive or even to see the various buses running on a map.
With the continued maintenance and further expansion of GTFS feeds in the Philippines, EACOMM is hoping to contribute in its own little way to improving public transportation in the country. We look forward to the day that, like our neighbors in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, the citizens of Metro Manila and other Philippine cities will actually prefer to use public transportation versus driving their own cars. Only through efficient and effective public transportation can we cure the traffic woes that our cities have been experiencing for decades.