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Advancing interconnected journeys & discoverability using Spare GTFS-Flex Builder

Learn about the advancing interconnected journeys & discoverability using Spare GTFS-Flex Builder


Terri Ling

Transit planning has long been recognized as a business of physical infrastructure with schedules and routes infrequently updated and largely catered to where and when most riders travel, leaving entire populations, majority of which in rural areas, completely underserved.

To solve this, we’ve seen a steady growth in on-demand transit services, aimed to both bridge the gap between transit inequities and provide accessible, reliable options to every rider.

But with these new services, comes new challenges.

For example:

  • How do agencies ensure their riders know these new on-demand offerings are available?
  • How do they integrate these new services into the regular digital tools their riders use daily to plan their trips (think: Apple Maps, Google Maps, Transit)?

In response to this growing need for integrating flexible demand-responsive transit services into mainstream travel planning applications, MobilityData led the industry to discuss and adopt the shared standard GTFS-Flex in March 2024.

The shared standard of GTFS-Flex marks a pivotal time in the industry.

The time is now for everyone to collaboratively pick up the baton and unlock the creation of datasets. To take part in that effort, Spare is excited to introduce the first free GTFS-Flex Builder, a tool aimed to simplify the creation of GTFS-Flex dataset to share with partners, providers and third parties.

GTFS-Flex Builder

Spare’s GTFS-Flex Builder can be used as a sandbox environment for service planners anywhere to learn the data format. The adoption of this tool plays a crucial role in expanding the reach and usability of on-demand transit options, ultimately increasing ridership and service efficiency.

What is GTFS-Flex, and why does it matter that it’s been adopted?

Think of GTFS as a data format that standardizes how transit schedule information is organized for easy transfer between online systems. GTFS data is primarily used to feed trip planning applications with transit information so that users can see trip plans with transit as the primary mode of travel.

GTFS packages a transit agency’s stop, route, and schedule data into a universally accepted format, making it simple for entities like Google or Apple Maps to consume and publish.

Imagine a poster of a transit network at a rail station – that’s how GTFS surfaces with riders.

Over 2,500 agencies worldwide today publish GTFS data, over a thousand of which are in the United States. As of Fall 2023, GTFS is also now a reporting requirement of the National Transit Database, administered by the Federal Transit Administration.

The value of Spare’s GTFS-Flex Builder for your agency

→ Interoperability

Interoperability is crucial in the transportation industry, as it allows different modes of transit to work together seamlessly. Spare's GTFS-Flex Builder embodies this ethos of openness, making it the first on-demand provider that fully embraces an open ecosystem approach. By using Spare's tool, agencies can ensure that their on-demand services are not only compatible with other transit options, like fixed routes, but also contribute to a more inclusive and comprehensive regional transportation network.

→ Growing ridership

For transit agencies and service planners, increasing ridership is a top priority. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by making transit services easily discoverable in widely used trip planning apps like the Big Four: Apple Maps, Citymapper, Google Maps & Transit App.

By simplifying the creation of GTFS-Flex datasets, Spare enables agencies to allow those apps to integrate their on-demand services seamlessly. This increased visibility ensures that more riders can find and use these services, ultimately boosting ridership and making public transit a more attractive option for everyone.

→ Improved rider experience & access to services

Providing riders with the information they need to make informed travel decisions is essential for improving their experience and access to services. GTFS-Flex allows transit agencies to offer detailed flexible transit options. This is particularly beneficial for rural transit providers, who can now confidently start or expand flexible transit services, knowing that riders can easily find these options. Spare's GTFS-Flex Builder facilitates this by allowing agencies to export and edit GTFS-Flex data. This leads to a more reliable and user-friendly experience for riders.

GTFS-Flex: So, what’s next?

The adoption of GTFS-Flex in March 2024 marks just the beginning of a transformative movement in the transit industry. As we move forward, collaboration between transit providers, agencies, and software developers will be essential to fully realize the potential of this new standard. Spare's GTFS-Flex Builder is poised to play a pivotal role in this evolution, providing the tools necessary to create and manage GTFS-Flex datasets.

Test it out yourself

Tinker around with Spare's GTFS-Flex Builder yourself here, and let us know what you think! Since this is a brand new tool, we are eager for community feedback.

Drop us a line with your input or you can provide feedback by creating a GitHub Issue in the GitHub community repository.

If you don't use Spare already to operate your on-demand transit services but want to know more, no fret! We're releasing a ton of exciting new releases, many of which are highlighted in a Spring 2024 keynote: Spare Showcase. Register now to learn about the ways the industry's GTFS-flex adoption intersects with other multimodal functionality we're building!