GTFS but for …

2000px-GTFS_class_diagram.svgJacob Baskin writes:

The Story of GTFS

GTFS is one of the biggest success stories in mobility data. In 2005, Chris Harrelson, a Google engineer, worked together with IT managers at TriMet, the transit agency for the Portland, Oregon metro area, to take an export of their schedule data and incorporate it into Google Maps to provide transit directions. The next step was adding transit in four more cities. Naturally, when Chris asked them to give him their transit data, he asked them to all provide it in the same format. In 2006, that format was enshrined as the Google Transit Feed Specification.

This GTFS format was static, a representation of where buses and trains were supposed to be according to schedule. Since then, a lot of progress has been made on real-time transit vehicle location data, and standards have emerged, and there is a real-time GTFS standard. Version 2.0 is out.

Given the success of GTFS, we want to know why so many other things are not standardized and openly available. This post summarizes the state to date of “GTFS but for.”

Applications:

 

  • Curbs
    • “SharedStreets creates a structured language for the street, unlocking new ways of collecting, analyzing and sharing information. A shared language lets us exchange information about what’s really happening on our streets, breaking down barriers the between public and private sectors, and combining layers of data in new ways to make streets work better for people.”
    • While it lacks curb usage data, DDOT (Washington DC DOT) has open public street cross-sectional data.
  • Parking (on and off street)
    • This is related to curb data in the on-street sense, but would track utilization as well as capacity, legality. It would also include off-street data.
  • Traffic signals states (past, present, and scheduled/future)
    • “There is an ongoing challenge to get 20 signals in all 50 states by 2020 to broadcast the signal phase and timing. A lot of progress has been made & agencies are deploying well into the 100s of signals. Resources and info can be found at  ” – Patrick Son
    • Traffic Technology Services has an API, which they charge for, for accessing this standard traffic signal data which AUDI uses for in-vehicle traffic light information. They claim 4700 signals in the system currently. Some DOTs have feeds accessible with registration.
    • VDOT’s SmarterRoads open data. Includes signal phase and timing based on J2735, for all state-controlled signals (which is most of Virginia). Also includes real-time tolling HOT tolls for I-66 and much more.
  • Services
  • Traffic data (vehicle counts, turning movements, speeds, vehicle locations, etc.)
    • Various states have information like this, but it is not standard between states as far as I can tell. See e.g. PEMS (California) or IRIS (Minnesota)
  • Real-time tolls, road prices.
    • There is no standardized feed type, though various agencies make this public.
  • EV charging stations and occupancy (queue length)
  • Logistics (open delivery services, physical internet)

There is of course some movement. The V2X community (vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, etc.) is setting standards, but they are not widely deployed nor used, nor are the outputs freely available on the internet  — the challenge to get 1000 traffic signals by 2020, out of the million or so out there in the US, “broadcasting” their state (locally and online), shows the sluggishness of deployment.

The first issue is standardization. When the data is standard, applications can be built that suck it in, process it, and provide useful outputs. No one has to reinvent the data filter for every distinct agency.

The second issue is openness. The data needs to be easily accessed. The traffic signal data may exist, but there is as far as I can tell, no open source place where one can go and grab it all.

Some providers might value incompatibility or secrecy for their data, especially parking vendors who are in competition. From a societal perspective all of this information should be freely available (gratis (free as in at no cost) and libre (free to use in any interesting way)). Making these data available in a standard format should be a quid pro quo for a license to operate a parking facility, a taxi or shared vehicle, or a toll road.

What else should there be a “GTFS” for? How do we get from here to there? What other initiatives out there show promise?

Towards a Transport Accessibility Manual

Transport policy decision follow from application of rules and standards. To the dismay of many in the transport community, these standards often come from another time with different values, including US documents such as:

  • ITE’s Trip Generation Manual
  • AASHTO’s Green Book
  • TRB’s Highway Capacity Manualfinal_cbsa_35620

While those aren’t going to change overnight, new preferences can be documented and embedded if they too become standards.

One of the key problems is what to value when investing in transport or regulating land development. Readers of this blog will likely  prioritize accessibility — the ease of reaching valued destinations. This connects transport and land use, considering both how easy it is to move and where things are located. While many planners know how to measure this, many don’t, and all could benefit from standardizing application to best practice.

To that end, I think we need a working group to develop such a standard, which would clarify topics like how to measure, how to compute, how to present, and what to consider. Let me know if  you are interested, and I will add you to a mailing list to discuss this. I hope there can be a meeting at TRB in DC in January.

FOSS4G: FOSS Experiences in Transportation and Land Use Research

FOSS4G

Andrew Owen will represent the Nexus group at the FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software
for Geospatial – North America 2013) conference happening in Minneapolis, May 22-24.

FOSS Experiences in Transportation and Land Use Research
Andrew Owen, University of Minnesota ­­ Nexus Research Group

The Nexus Research Group at the University of Minnesota focuses on understanding the intersections of transportation and land use. In this presentation, we will examine case studies of how open ­source geospatial software has fit into specific research projects. We will discuss why and how open­ source software was chosen, how it strengthened our research, what areas we see as most important for development, and offer suggestions for increasing the use of open­ source geospatial software in transportation and land use research. Over the past two years, we have begun incorporating open­ source geospatial data and analysis tools into a research workflow that had been dominated by commercial packages. Most significantly, we implemented an instance of OpenTripPlanner Analyst for calculation of transit travel time matrices, and deployed QGIS and PostGIS for data manipulation and analysis. The project achieved a completely open research workflow, though this brought both benefits and challenges. Strengths of open ­source software in this research context include cutting ­edge transit analysis tools, efficient parallel processing of large data sets, and default creation of open data formats. We hope that our experience will encourage research users to adopt open­ source geospatial research tools, and inspire developers to target enhancements that can specifically benefit research users.

The Next Big OS War Is In Your Dashboard

Wired Autopia: The Next Big OS War Is In Your Dashboard :

“‘The theme I hear time and time again from every single one of our customers is you’ve got to help us move at the pace of consumer electronics,’ Derek Kuhn, vice president of sales and marketing for QNX Software Systems, told Wired. ‘It’s no longer acceptable to innovate at the pace of automotive.’”

Standards Wars in Transportation

If a standard is good, aren’t two better?
Autoblog on the EV charging standards war: Why SAE Combo vs. CHAdeMO battle could be a big problem:

“… Japanese automakers like Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi are supporting the CHAdeMO standard, which was launched in 2010 and is used in 1,500 stations worldwide (all but 200 are in Japan). US and European automakers like BMW, General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen are instead standing behind the so-called SAE Combo standard, which was first demonstrated in May and is expected to debut by the end of the year. Combo supporters tout their standard as superior because, unlike CHAdeMO, it allows for one port to charge at both Level 2 and DC fast charge. CHAdeMO requires two different plugs. Earlier this month, SAE International finalized its so-called J1772 technical standards for Combo chargers.
The problem, as you might suspect, is that two competing systems, ‘could be another roadblock to the introduction of electric vehicles, increasing consumer resistance. A scattering of incompatible charging stations compounds range anxiety with plug anxiety,’ writes Automotive News. In other words, this is exactly not what plug-in vehicles need”

Meanwhile in Electronic Tolling Collection, Toll Road News reports: Kapsch declares E-ZPass IAG protocols open standard, and discusses sticker tags:

“2012-10-24: Kapsch which owns the intellectual property rights to the E-ZPass IAG electronic toll system through the 2010 purchase of Mark IV IVHS says it is renouncing any proprietary claims to the protocols. They should now be regarded as an open standard for others to use and compete with. They plan to publish the specifications and code so that anyone can build to it.”

However that doesn’t settle it, as there are other standards, like Sticker Tags about:

“We pressed several senior Kapsch officials – Georg Kapsch, Chris Murray, Erwin Toplak COO – on their view of 6C sticker tags as a route to US national interoperability.
They said that the key is multiprotocol readers. And they reiterated their view that active hard case, battery powered transponders represent a better business case for customers over the long run. “

 

My wallet

Shouldn’t transit fare payment systems be standard and interchangeable by now.


– dml

Why Transportation Costs Too Much, 39 Hypotheses and Counting

Late last year I provoked a bit of a fury with Transportation costs too much and the main follow-up Is transport too expensive?

For the first time, I will briefly list all of the hypotheses in one post.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

My coauthors (alphabetically) include John Bedell, Peter Gordon, Michael Iacono, David King, Dick Mudge, Randal O’Toole, Lisa Schweitzer, Stephen Smith, and others who posted anonymously. It goes without saying (which means it doesn’t since I am saying it) that not everyone agrees with everything. At the bottom, I have grouped the causes into larger meta-causes where appropriate.

  1. Standards have risen [Smith’s Man of System].
  2. Principal-agent problem.
  3. Thin markets.
  4. There are in-sufficient economies of scale (Excess Bespoke Design).
  5. Projects are scoped wrong.
  6. Benefits are concentrated, costs are diffuse [Logic of Collective Action].
  7. Decision-makers are remote [Fatal Conceit].
  8. No one actually does B/C analysis.
  9. The highest demand areas for maintenance and new stock occur in places that are expensive.
  10. Project creep.
  11. Envy is a much bigger problem in public works than in personal life.
  12. Benefit cost is only as good as the integrity of the data and the analysts.
  13. Federal funds favor capital-heavy technologies and investments.
  14. Design for forecast.
  15. Planners and engineers are paid as percentage of total project cost [Principal-Agent Problem].
  16. Materials are scarcer (and thus more expensive).
  17. Regulations like ADA and environmental protection are driving up costs.
  18. Formula spending reduces the incentive or need to worry much about costs. This is obviously related to many of the other hypotheses already considered but I think deserves it’s own number.
  19. The State Aid system and associated standards.
  20. Stop/start investment.
  21. Poor commissioning.
  22. “Starchitecture”,
  23. Separation of design and build.
  24. Doing construction on facilities still in operation.
  25. Union work rules (not wages)that inhibit productivity gains through new technologies.
  26. Fragmented governance leads to large and meandering projects rather than centralized projects. Politicians have to “share the wealth” of projects. This is perhaps a cause of “project creep.”
  27. Environmental Impact Statements (Reports) lead to “lock-in”
  28. Public-private partnerships trade additional up front costs for faster construction.
  29. Open government/costs of democracy.
  30. Climate change adaptation is increasing the costs of projects.
  31.  Ratchet Effect.
  32. Baumol’s cost disease.
  33. Transit investment isn’t realizing any productivity gains from labor.
  34. Utility works are uncharged.
  35. Experience and Competence.
  36. Ethos, training and prestige.
  37. Government power.
  38. Legal system.
  39. Lack of user fee funding.

Some other points:
1. Standards arguably includes 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 27, 29, 30,
4. Insufficient scale economies, there is some relationship to 1, since bespoke probably means higher quality (better local fitting).
5. Scoping, includes 10, 14, 22, 26

Power-grid experiment could confuse clocks

From MSNBC: Power-grid experiment could confuse clocks

A yearlong experiment with America’s electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.
“A lot of people are going to have things break and they’re not going to know why,” said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.
Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.
The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment that would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

I have long thought there should be a time stamp on the electric grid power signal, something quite small, but that could be read as embedded information (some highly non-random sequence) from modulation of the phase or frequency of the AC cycle. Other means for synchronizing clocks rely on other networks (internet, GPS, radio, etc.), some old discussion here. This is similar to the idea of powerline modems, but not nearly as sophisticated (i.e. I just want a time signal).

Minnesota Standards Should Change from 12 Foot Lane Widths to 11 Foot Lane Widths – Mike on Traffic

Mike on Traffic argues:

Minnesota Standards Should Change from 12 Foot Lane Widths to 11 Foot Lane Widths : “”

“Narrowing roads results in shorter crossing distances and reduced traffic speeds. This improves the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The research also points to 11 foot lanes being as safe as 12 foot lanes (according to NCHRP Project 17-26). A big reason is that motorists drive more cautiously in narrower lanes. Narrower lanes would have reduced the numerous speeding complaints I received from residents during my tenure in Maple Grove.
A quick check of MnDOT’s website shows there are 290,588 lane miles in Minnesota. Assuming we trimmed one foot off each lane, that would equate to 35,222 acres (55 square miles) of less pavement (assuming all of the roads are paved). To put that in perspective, the city of Minneapolis is 58.4 square miles including the lakes and rivers.
Imagine the economic and environmental benefits of shifting the standard by one foot. Why would this decision take 2+ years of study? The rules should be re-written to make 10 foot lanes allowable in urban settings, 11 foot lanes the standard across the state, and 12 foot lanes allowed if justified through a variance process.”