After years of messy, inconsistent bikeshare data, a new standard has emerged to unite major systems.
At the latest Transportation Techies meetup event, which focused on Capital Bikeshare projects, Motivate employee Daniel Gohlke presented the General Bikeshare Feed Specification, or GBFS, which will standardize bikeshare trip data for developers, researchers and enthusiasts.
Modeled after the General Transit Feed Specification, which has standardized transit schedules and routes for developers and researchers, GBFS was officially adopted in November 2015 by the North American Bike Share Association and is supported by a number of bikeshare operators such as Motivate (which runs Capital Bikeshare in the D.C. region).
To knowing nods in the meetup audience, Gohlke explained how Capital Bikeshare trip data has shifted from several different code formats over the years, from XML to multiple JSON versions, and varying ways of describing station and trip locations. These changes not only make it difficult for developers to work across different bikeshare systems, but also impede collection and analysis for historical system data. Imagine setting your program to look for a station’s location, as written one way, only to have that same station described differently on a new set of data.
Gohlke’s examples highlighted prior differences between Motivate’s earlier data formats (Capital Bikeshare in XML, left, a CitiBike station in a later JSON version, right).
Back in 2014, Mobility Lab tech advisor Michael Schade lamented the lack of a standardized data format for bikeshare – something that could span multiple cities and allow people making maps or developing transportation apps to easily work with trip data from any system. Writing then, he stressed that an open data standard would not only ease headaches for developers navigating different coding languages, but also foster more analysis and tools:
By publishing and standardizing bikesharing open data, developers and analysts can make it easier for the public to make use of and discover bikesharing systems across the globe, such as the Bike Share Map by Oliver O’Brian. The vendors, operators, and managing jurisdictions should work together to create a standard that can be used by everyone.
The new GBFS format looks to solve those headaches, though, with a number of major operators – covering systems such as CitiBike, Hubway, Pronto, and Capital Bikeshare – already adopting it, and more converting to it in coming months. The format even covers dockless systems, which are increasingly common in smaller cities and university campuses.
What does this mean for the rest of us, who only generate bikeshare trip data and never see where it ends up? Ultimately, riders will learn more about how transit systems in cities connect with people and how people use those systems, and apps should work more seamlessly across systems and cities. And importantly, the creation of an open-data standard, which deliberately parallels rail and bus feeds, cements the legitimacy of bikesharing as a public transportation option on the same level as transit.
Photo, at top: Screenshot of CaBiTracker.com, an earlier project from Gohlke.