The real benefits of real-time transit data

It’s been a little more than a decade since Google and TriMet, the transit authority for Portland, Oregon, partnered to create a standardized format for scheduled transit data called GTFS. That breakthrough, and the subsequent rise of vehicle location data, has made real-time transit information an essential part of urban life, from the arrival screens at train platforms or bus stands to the smartphone apps that help people plan trips.

The case for cities to embrace real-time transit data — either by collecting it or making it open to others — just got a lot stronger thanks to transportation researchers Candace Brakewood of the University of Tennessee and Kari Watkins of Georgia Tech. They reviewed dozens of studies on the benefits of real-time data to people’s lives and compiled their findings for all the urban planners and transit agencies looking to invest in real-time infrastructure.

“The people in the transit agency who have not yet done this, or have wanted to but haven’t been able to put together the business case for it — this should really help them,” says Brakewood. “You’re going to get some real tangible benefits that many other cities have found.”

The primary benefits include reduced wait times (people use an app to time their walk to a stop or station), reduced travel time (people adjust their trip choices), and increased transit use (people like reduced wait and travel times). In time, the higher-order impact stands to be even greater: a future where integrated real-time data from all transportation options enables a true mobility system that rivals private car use on convenience.

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