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GTFS Data Guide

A guide to GTFS icon

Understanding the basics of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)

The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is often the unsung hero of modern public transit systems, because it allows transit data to be shared across systems and apps. This data standard allows transit agencies to publish their transit schedules and real-time tracking data in a format that many transit management tools and public apps can understand. 


GTFS - An Open Data Standard

The GTFS data structure was originally developed by Google in 2005, as a way of getting transit data into Google Maps. The acronym GTFS originally stood for “Google Transit Feed Specification”. However, the official name has since changed to “General Transit Feed Specification” and it is now an open data standard that is maintained by

Types of GTFS Data


There are multiple types of GTFS data structures. The GTFS-Schedule standard provides a snapshot of your transit data – such as your stops, routes, trip schedules, and such. 

You typically need to update this transit data when services change, such as alterations to routes, stops, or trip schedules. This might be for long-term changes, or even temporary changes such as detours due to construction. 


GTFS-Realtime adds live data, offering updates on delays, cancellations, and current vehicle positions. To publish GTFS-Realtime, you must also publish GTFS-Schedule. Both of these data standards are maintained by

Note that publishing GTFS-Realtime data will require your buses to be equipped with real-time GPS trackers. 

Other Extensions

There are other GTFS extensions that are in various stages to standardization, such as GTFS-Flex (for demand-response service). At the moment, adoption of these newer extensions is fairly limited. 

Examples of GTFS Data Usage

Mapping Apps

Popular navigation apps like Google Maps and Apple Maps use GTFS data to provide accurate transit routing options, giving users alternatives to driving or walking directions. This helps users plan their trips with real-time schedule information.  Furthermore, these mapping apps are already preinstalled on virtually all smart phones, which makes it an easy way to get transit routes and info to your riders. 

Transit Data Management

Transit data management software, like TransitFare Cloud, also can use or generate GTFS data for analysis and optimization of routes and schedules, enabling more efficient service planning. 

Trip Planning Apps

Many public transit agencies have their own apps or websites that use GTFS data to show schedules, route maps, and service alerts. GTFS provides a standard format for transit data. This standard supports a diverse ecosystem of applications and services. Publishing transit data in this standardized format makes public transit more accessible and user-friendly.

Transit Signage

GTFS data can also feed transit data to digital signage, offering real-time schedule information and vital transit alerts to passengers on the go. Centralized software like TransitFare Cloud enables transit agencies to dynamically update digital displays at stations and stops, providing up-to-the-minute details about service times, delays, and important notices. By feeding directly into digital signage systems, GTFS data ensures passengers receive accurate and timely information. This significantly enhances the overall travel experience. It also aids in efficient journey planning.

Creating and Managing GTFS Data

The first step in creating and managing GTFS data is to understand the data structure. MobilityData maintains the data standard, which is available at It is an open-source data structure, which means the standard is transparent and available to anyone. 

Transit Data Quality & Accuracy

Publishing high-quality GTFS data is extremely important. First, the data needs to be accurate because riders will rely on the data when they are planning and taking their trips. Every part of the dataset, from names of stops, to locations, to the timing of each trip, must be accurate. 

Producing high-quality transit data means understanding the many best-practices that might not be obvious when just looking at the data standard. A few guides for understanding best practices are the GTFS Schedule Best Practices and the GTFS Realtime Best Practices

Creating & Maintaining GTFS Data Files

Once you’ve understood the data structure and the various best-practices, it’s time to start creating the various files that are part of the dataset. Some files are fairly easy to create, like agency.txt and feed_info.txt. Others are relatively easy to create, but can be time-consuming, like stops.txt and routes.txt. Finally, some can be difficult and time-consuming to create, and would be easier to do with a tool. 

You need to maintain GTFS data over time, especially as your transit service changes. If you update your stops, routes, trip schedules, etc., you also need to update your transit data feed accordingly.


While it is possible to create and maintain GTFS-Schedule data with common tools like Excel and Google Earth, creating and maintaining GTFS-Realtime data would typically require a tool or technology platform. Real-time GPS data from buses needs to be combined with route, stop and trip schedule data to generate this data feed.

Publishing GTFS Data

You must maintain GTFS data over time, particularly as your transit service changes. If you update your stops, routes, and trips, you also need to make those changes in your transit data feed.

There are several best practices to publishing GTFS data, such as ensuring the URLs are stable, and that updates to the data are published ahead of time. Downstream systems such as mapping apps may take hours to days to process changes to stops, routes, etc. 

GTFS Data Publishing with TransitFare Cloud

TransitFare Cloud automates the whole process of creating, managing and publishing GTFS data. By removing the complexity of transit data management, TransitFare Cloud allows agencies to concentrate on enhancing their services. As a result, agencies can devote more resources to improving rider experiences rather than getting bogged down by the technical details of managing transit data. 

Centralizing Transit Data

Centralizing transit data management in a platform like TransitFare Cloud offers numerous benefits for public transit systems. When all transit data—ranging from GTFS feeds to real-time service updates—is managed in one central location, it becomes easier to manage transit data since it is all in one place. This consolidation allows for more accurate data analysis, better decision-making, and improved response times to service disruptions.

Automated Transit Data Publishing

TransitFare Cloud automatically publishes your latest transit data to all the mapping apps, trip planning apps, and other systems that you’ve authorized. It provides stable, 24/7 access to your transit data, so that riders are able to plan their trips on any device. 

By automatically publishing transit data, riders always have the most up-to-date information on service alerts, detours, and other information that can affect their trip. 

Additional Reading

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