This research study for the Transportation Research Board explored transit agency needs and uses of AVL, APC, and AFC data in order to create a standard data specification for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) data.

With the proliferation of bus and rail intelligent transportation systems (ITS) such as automatic vehicle location (AVL), automatic passenger counters (APC), and automatic fare collection (AFC), transit agencies have the ability to collect increasingly granular operations data on service performance, customer behavior, and financial recovery. Rather than relying on manually collected data samples, transit planners and analysts have access to comprehensive, automatically collected data sets. Data from just one of these systems is already useful, but the combination of AVL, APC, AFC, and schedule data enables even more nuanced analysis. By linking passenger or fare data to vehicle data, analysts can understand not only where and when boardings or alightings occurred, but the detailed travel experiences of individuals. This understanding enables planners and managers in transit agencies to make decisions that result in improvements to the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of the transit network.

Similar to the general transit feed specification (GTFS) format for transit schedule data, this research study will result in a recommended data structure and set of tools that transit agencies and ITS vendors can adopt to standardize APC, AVL, and AFC data. Foursquare ITP led in-depth interviews with transit agency staff, ITS vendors, and transit advocacy groups to gather feedback on ITS data uses, desired output formats, as well as the use-cases for potential analysis tools. Foursquare ITP also supported the research for this study through a literature review and a practitioner’s workshop where agency and ITS vendor staff were able to share ideas on how the data structure should look. These activities informed the development of a draft data structure and will aid in the specification of tools that will use the data structure.

This research study resulted in a recommended data structure and set of tools that transit agencies and ITS vendors can adopt to standardize APC, AVL, and AFC data.