Introduction: Open APIs and the Future of Mobility
At Transit, we love public APIs and open data standards. They're the secret sauce for urban mobility, helping people get around cities without owning a two-ton metal box.
But how do they work? Who makes them happen? Glad you asked. We've got a quick explainer (and a full report) so you can get up to speed in no time.
On this page:
- Why open standards matter
- The state of mobility data standards
- Bus, bike, taxi: who's leading the pack?
- How to support the movement
Why open standards matter
Imagine if you had to buy a different phone every time you tried call someone, depending on the telephone company they used. Or if, on a road trip, you could only pump at 1 out of every 5 gas stations because the nozzles at the other rest stops didn't fit your car. Or if sending an email required logging into five different accounts to message five different people, depending on whether they had signed up for Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo.
- Companies develop new innovations that build on existing systems
- Consumers easily find the best options
- Governments deliver public benefits and achieve policy goals
Our enlightened self-interest
The state of mobility data standards
Fact is, it's a mixed bag: despite some big successes, data standards are not fully developed or adopted across the entire industry. What's worse: many of the APIs that could power multimodal connections are under lock and key. The result? Mobility options aren't yet fully interoperable and "mobility as a service" remains an unfulfilled promise.
Jargon decoder: what's an API?
- 👍 Standardized: following a standard, so everyone is using a common language
- 🔒 Proprietary: developed from scratch, specific to a particular operator
- 👍 Open: available to any app that wants to connect its users to another service
- 🔒 Private: available only through a private agreement between partners
- Schedules and real-time information, so riders can plan trips and see the current status of their ride
- Payment and trip completion, letting riders create an account to book a trip, request a ride, unlock a vehicle, and pay for their journey
Bus, bike, taxi: who's leading the pack?
- Fixed-route transit (buses, trains, ferries)
- Well-developed standards for schedules and real-time information (GTFS)
- Payments rely on proprietary APIs that could be brought together by developing open standards
- Micromobility and free-floating services (bikeshare, scooters, mopeds, carshare)
- Open standard for real-time information is increasingly popular, particularly for bikeshare and scooters (GBFS)
- Work is underway to include mopeds and carshare
- Payment and unlocking, however, rely on proprietary APIs that can be standardized
- On-demand rides (microtransit, ridehail, taxis)
- Currently rely primarily on private, proprietary APIs
- Industry working group is developing open data standard (GOFS) so riders can integrate on-demand services with other mobility options
How to support the movement
- Mobility operators: Contribute to the development of open standards, and use them to provide public APIs with high-quality data for riders
- Multimodal platforms: Integrate APIs that use open standards to clear the way for riders looking to get from A to B
- Non-profits: Promote the creation and adoption of open standards, and encourage governments to make open APIs and data standards part of their mobility programs
- Governments: Enable "mobility as a service" by requiring public APIs using open data standards as part of your city's mobility programs and first/last-mile options