On the accuracy of schedule-based GTFS for measuring accessibility





Public Transport, Accessibility, GTFS, General Transit Feed Specification


In this paper we assess the accuracy with which General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) schedule data can be used to measure accessibility by public transit as it varies over space and time. We use archived Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) data from four North American transit agencies to produce a detailed reconstruction of actual transit vehicle movements over the course of five days in a format that allows for travel time estimation directly comparable to schedule-based GTFS. With travel times estimated on both schedule-based and retrospective networks, we compute and compare a variety of accessibility measures. We find that origin-based accessibility even when averaged over one-hour periods can vary widely between locations. Origins with lower scheduled access tend to produce less reliable estimates with more variability from hour to hour in real accessibility, while higher access zones seem to converge on an estimate 5-15 percent lower than the schedule predicts. Such over- and under-predictions exhibit strong spatial patterns which should be of concern to those using accessibility metrics in statistical models. Momentary measures of accessibility are briefly discussed and found to be weakly related to momentary changes in real access. These findings bring into question the validity of some recent applications of GTFS data and point the way toward more robust methods for calculating accessibility.

Author Biographies

Nate Wessel, University of Toronto

Nate Wessel is a PhD candidate in urban planning at the University of Toronto. His research interests include public transport, GIS, and cartography.

Steven Farber, University of Toronto Scarborough

Steven Farber is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at University of Toronto Scarborough. His research investigates the social and economic impacts of transportation and land use planning and policy.


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How to Cite

Wessel, N., & Farber, S. (2019). On the accuracy of schedule-based GTFS for measuring accessibility. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.5198/jtlu.2019.1502