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GTFS Schedule Best Practices

These are recommended practices for describing public transportation services in the GTFS Schedule Reference format. These complement the explicit recommendations outlined in the GTFS Schedule Reference using the terms “recommend” or “should”. Although not mandatory, following these best practices can significantly improve the quality of the data and the overall experience for riders.

These practices have been synthesized from the experience of the GTFS Best Practices working group members and application-specific GTFS practice recommendations.

For further background, see the Frequently Asked Questions.

Document Structure

Practices are organized into two primary sections:

Practice Recommendations Organized by File

This section shows practices organized by file and field, aligning with the GTFS reference.


Field Name Recommendation
agency_phone Should be included unless no such customer service phone exists.
agency_email Should be included unless no such customer service email exists.
agency_fare_url Should be included unless the agency is fully fare-free.


  • Bus services are run by several small bus agencies. But there is one big agency that is responsible for scheduling and ticketing and from a user’s perspective responsible for the bus services.The one big agency should be defined as agency within the feed. Even if the data is split internally by different small bus operators there should only be one agency defined in the feed.

  • The feed provider runs the ticketing portal, but there are different agencies that actually operate the services and are known by users to be responsible. The agencies actually operating the services should be defined as agencies within the feed.


Field Name Recommendation
stop_name When there is not a published stop name, follow consistent stop naming conventions throughout the feed.
By default, stop_name should not contain generic or redundant words like “Station” or “Stop”, but some edge cases are allowed.
  • When it is actually part of the name (Union Station, Central Station
  • When the stop_name is too generic (such as if it is the name of the city). “Station”, “Terminal”, or other words make the meaning clear.
stop_lat & stop_lon Stop locations should be as accurate possible. Stop locations should have an error of no more than four meters when compared to the actual stop position.
Stop locations should be placed very near to the pedestrian right of way where a passenger will board (i.e. correct side of the street).
If a stop location is shared across separate data feeds (i.e. two agencies use exactly the same stop / boarding facility), indicate the stop is shared by using the exact same stop_lat and stop_lon for both stops.
parent_station & location_type Many stations or terminals have multiple boarding facilities (depending on mode, they might be called a bus bay, platform, wharf, gate, or another term). In such cases, feed producers should describe stations, boarding facilities (also called child stops), and their relation.
  • The station or terminal should be defined as a record in stops.txt with location_type = 1.
  • Each boarding facility should be defined as a stop with location_type = 0. The parent_station field should reference the stop_id of the station the boarding facility is in.
When naming the station and child stops, set names that are well-recognized by riders, and can help riders to identify the station and boarding facility (bus bay, platform, wharf, gate, etc.).
Parent Station NameChild Stop Name
Chicago Union StationChicago Union Station Platform 19
San Francisco Ferry Building TerminalSan Francisco Ferry Building Terminal Gate E
Downtown Transit CenterDowntown Transit Center Bay B


Field Name Recommendation
route_long_name The definition from Specification reference: This name is generally more descriptive than the route_short_name and will often include the route's destination or stop. At least one of route_short_name or route_long_name must be specified, or potentially both if appropriate. If the route does not have a long name, please specify a route_short_name and use an empty string as the value for this field.
Examples of types of long names are below:
Primary Travel Path or Corridor
Route NameFormAgency
Muni, in San Francisco
“6“/“ML King Jr Blvd“route_short_name/
TriMet, in Portland, Or.
“6”/“Nation - Étoile”route_short_name/
RATP, in Paris France.
“U2”-“Pankow – Ruhleben”route_short_name-
BVG, in Berlin, Germany
Description of the Service
“Hartwell Area Shuttle“
route_long_name should not contain the route_short_name.
Include the full designation including a service identity when populating route_long_name. Examples:
Service IdentityRecommendationExamples
"MAX Light Rail"
TriMet, in Portland, Oregon
The route_long_name should include the brand (MAX) and the specific route designation"MAX Red Line" "MAX Blue Line"
"Rapid Ride"
ABQ Ride, in Albuquerque, New Mexico
The route_long_name should include the brand (Rapid Ride) and the specific route designation"Rapid Ride Red Line"
"Rapid Ride Blue Line"
route_id All trips on a given named route should reference the same route_id.
  • Different directions of a route should not be separated into different route_id values.
  • Different spans of operation of a route should not be separated into different route_id values. i.e. do not create different records in routes.txt for “Downtown AM” and “Downtown PM” services).
  • If a route group includes distinctly named branches (e.g. 1A and 1B), follow recommendations in the route branches case to determine route_short_name and route_long_name.
    route_color & route_text_color Should be consistent with signage and printed and online customer information (and thus not included if they do not exist in other places).


    • See special case for loop routes: Loop routes are cases where trips start and end at the same stop, as opposed to linear routes, which have two distinct termini. Loop routes must be described following specific practices. See Loop route case.
    • See special case for lasso routes: Lasso routes are a hybrid of linear and loop geometries, in which vehicles travel on a loop for only a portion of the route. Lasso routes must be described following specific practices. See Lasso route case.
    Field Name Recommendation
    trip_headsign Do not provide route names (matching route_short_name and route_long_name) in the trip_headsign or stop_headsign fields.
    Should contain destination, direction, and/or other trip designation text shown on the headsign of the vehicle which may be used to distinguish amongst trips in a route. Consistency with direction information shown on the vehicle is the primary and overriding goal for determining headsigns supplied in GTFS datasets. Other information should be included only if it does not compromise this primary goal. If headsigns change during a trip, override trip_headsign with stop_times.stop_headsign. Below are recommendations for some possible cases:
    Route DescriptionRecommendation
    2A. Destination-onlyProvide the terminus destination. e.g. "Transit Center", “Portland City Center”, or “Jantzen Beach”>
    2B. Destinations with waypoints<destination> via <waypoint> “Highgate via Charing Cross”. If waypoint(s) are removed from the headsign show to passengers after the vehicle passes those waypoints, use stop_times.stop_headsign to set an updated headsign.>
    2C. Regional placename with local stopsIf there will be multiple stops inside the city or borough of destination, use stop_times.stop_headsign once reaching the destination city.>
    2D. Direction-onlyIndicate using terms such as “Northbound”, “Inbound”, “Clockwise,” or similar directions.>
    2E. Direction with destination<direction> to <terminus name> e.g. “Southbound to San Jose”>
    2F. Direction with destination and waypoints<direction> via <waypoint> to <destination> (“Northbound via Charing Cross to Highgate”).>
    Do not begin a headsign with the words “To” or “Towards”.
    direction_id Use values 0 and 1 consistently throughout the dataset. i.e.
    • If 1 = Outbound on the Red route, then 1 = Outbound on the Green route
    • If 1 = Northbound on Route X, then 1 = Northbound on Route Y
    • If 1 = clockwise on Route X then 1 = clockwise on Route Y
    bikes_allowed For ferry trips, be explicit about bikes being allowed (or not), as avoiding ferry trips due to missing data usually leads to big detours.


    Loop routes: Loop routes require special stop_times considerations. (See: Loop route case)

    Field Name Recommendation
    pickup_type & drop_off_type Non-revenue (deadhead) trips that do not provide passenger service should be marked with pickup_type and drop_off_type value of 1 for all stop_times rows.
    On revenue trips, internal “timing points” for monitoring operational performance and other places such as garages that a passenger cannot board should be marked with pickup_type = 1 (no pickup available) and drop_off_type = 1 (no drop off available).
    arrival_time & departure_time arrival_time and departure_time fields should specify time values whenever possible, including non-binding estimated or interpolated times between timepoints.
    stop_headsign In general, headsign values should also correspond to signs in the stations.

    In the cases below, “Southbound” would mislead customers because it is not used in the station signs.
    In NYC, for the 2 going Southbound:
    For stop_times.txt rows:Use stop_headsign value:
    Until Manhattan is ReachedManhattan & Brooklyn
    Until Downtown is ReachedDowntown & Brooklyn
    Until Brooklyn is ReachedBrooklyn
    Once Brooklyn is ReachedBrooklyn (New Lots Av)
    In Boston, for the Red Line going Southbound, for the Braintree branch:
    For stop_times.txt rows:Use stop_headsign value:
    Until Downtown is ReachedInbound to Braintree
    Once Downtown is ReachedBraintree
    After DowntownOutbound to Braintree


    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields Including a calendar.service_name field can also increase the human readability of GTFS, although this is not adopted in the spec.


    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields Including a calendar.service_name field can also increase the human readability of GTFS, although this is not adopted in the spec.


    Field Name Recommendation
    If a fare system cannot be accurately modeled, avoid further confusion and leave it blank.
    Include fares (fare_attributes.txt and fare_rules.txt) and model them as accurately as possible. In edge cases where fares cannot be accurately modeled, the fare should be represented as more expensive rather than less expensive so customers will not attempt to board with insufficient fare. If the vast majority of fares cannot be modeled correctly, do not include fare information in the feed.


    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields If a fare system cannot be accurately modeled, avoid further confusion and leave it blank.
    Include fares (fare_attributes.txt and fare_rules.txt) and model them as accurately as possible. In edge cases where fares cannot be accurately modeled, the fare should be represented as more expensive rather than less expensive so customers will not attempt to board with insufficient fare. If the vast majority of fares cannot be modeled correctly, do not include fare information in the feed.


    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields Ideally, for alignments that are shared (i.e. in a case where Routes 1 and 2 operate on the same segment of roadway or track) then the shared portion of alignment should match exactly. This helps to facilitate high-quality transit cartography.
    Alignments should follow the centerline of the right of way on which the vehicle travels. This could be either the centerline of the street if there are no designated lanes, or the centerline of the side of the roadway that travels in the direction the vehicle moves.

    Alignments should not “jag” to a curb stop, platform, or boarding location.
    shape_dist_traveled The shape_dist_traveled field allows the agency to specify exactly how the stops in the stop_times.txt file fit into their respective shape. A common value to use for the shape_dist_traveled field is the distance from the beginning of the shape as traveled by the vehicle (think something like an odometer reading).
  • Route alignments (in shapes.txt) should be within 100 meters of stop locations which a trip serves.
  • Simplify alignments so that shapes.txt does not contain extraneous points (i.e. remove extra points on straight-line segments; see discussion of line simplification problem).
  • frequencies.txt

    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields Actual stop times are ignored for trips referenced by frequencies.txt; only travel time intervals between stops are significant for frequency-based trips. For clarity/human readability, it is recommended that the first stop time of a trip referenced in frequencies.txt should begin at 00:00:00 (first arrival_time value of 00:00:00).
    block_id Can be provided for frequency-based trips.


    transfers.transfer_type can be one of four values defined in the GTFS. These transfer_type definitions are quoted from the GTFS Specification below, in italics, with additional practice recommendations.

    Field Name Recommendation
    transfer_type 0 or (empty): This is a recommended transfer point between routes.
    If there are multiple transfer opportunities that include a superior option (i.e. a transit center with additional amenities or a station with adjacent or connected boarding facilities/platforms), specify a recommended transfer point.
    1: This is a timed transfer point between two routes. The departing vehicle is expected to wait for the arriving one, with sufficient time for a passenger to transfer between routes.
    This transfer type overrides a required interval to reliably make transfers. As an example, Google Maps assumes that passengers need 3 minutes to safely make a transfer. Other applications may assume other defaults.
    2: This transfer requires a minimum amount of time between arrival and departure to ensure a connection. The time required to transfer is specified by min_transfer_time.
    Specify minimum transfer time if there are obstructions or other factors which increase the time to travel between stops.
    3: Transfers are not possible between routes at this location.
    Specify this value if transfers are not possible because of physical barriers, or if they are made unsafe or complicated by difficult road crossings or gaps in the pedestrian network.
    If in-seat (block) transfers are allowed between trips, then the last stop of the arriving trip must be the same as the first stop of the departing trip.

    Practice Recommendations Organized by Case

    This section covers particular cases with implications across files and fields.

    Loop Routes

    On loop routes, vehicles’ trips begin and end at the same location (sometimes a transit or transfer center). Vehicles usually operate continuously and allow passengers to stay onboard as the vehicle continues its loop.

    Headsigns recommendations should therefore be applied in order to show riders the direction in which the vehicle is going.

    To indicate the changing direction of travel, provide stop_headsigns in the stop_times.txt file. The stop_headsign describes the direction for trips departing from the stop for which it's defined. Adding stop_headsigns to each stop of a trip allows you to change the headsign information along a trip.

    Don’t define one single circular trip in the stop_times.txt file for a route that operates between two endpoints (such as when the same bus goes back and forth). Instead, split the trip into two separate trip directions.

    Examples of circular trip modeling:

    • Circular trip with changing headsign for each stop
    trip_id arrival_time departure_time stop_id stop_sequence stop_headsign
    trip_1 06:10:00 06:10:00 stop_A 1 "B"
    trip_1 06:15:00 06:15:00 stop_B 2 "C"
    trip_1 06:20:00 06:20:00 stop_C 3 "D"
    trip_1 06:25:00 06:25:00 stop_D 4 "E"
    trip_1 06:30:00 06:30:00 stop_E 5 "A"
    trip_1 06:35:00 06:35:00 stop_A 6 ""
    • Circular trip with two headsigns
    trip_id arrival_time departure_time stop_id stop_sequence stop_headsign
    trip_1 06:10:00 06:10:00 stop_A 1 "outbound"
    trip_1 06:15:00 06:15:00 stop_B 2 "outbound"
    trip_1 06:20:00 06:20:00 stop_C 3 "outbound"
    trip_1 06:25:00 06:25:00 stop_D 4 "inbound"
    trip_1 06:30:00 06:30:00 stop_E 5 "inbound"
    trip_1 06:35:00 06:35:00 stop_F 6 "inbound"
    trip_1 06:40:00 06:40:00 stop_A 7 ""
    Field Name Recommendation
    trips.trip_id Model the complete round-trip for the loop with a single trip.
    stop_times.stop_id Include the first/last stop twice in stop_times.txt for the trip that is a loop. Example below. Often, a loop route may include first and last trips that do not travel the entire loop. Include these trips as well.
    trips.direction_id If loop operates in opposite directions (i.e. clockwise and counterclockwise), then designate direction_id as 0 or 1.
    trips.block_id Indicate continuous loop trips with the same block_id.

    Lasso Routes

    Lasso routes combine aspects of a loop route and directional route.

    Subway Routes (Chicago)
    Bus Suburb to Downtown Routes (St. Albert or Edmonton)
    CTA Brown Line (CTA Website and TransitFeeds)
    Field Name Recommendation
    trips.trip_id The full extent of a “vehicle round-trip” (see illustration above) consists of travel from A to B to B and back to A. An entire vehicle round-trip may be expressed by:
  • A single trip_id value/record in trips.txt
  • Multiple trip_id values/records in trips.txt, with continuous travel indicated by block_id.
  • stop_times.stop_headsign The stops along the A-B section will be passed through in both directions. stop_headsign facilitates distinguishing travel direction. Therefore, providing stop_headsign is recommended for these trips.example_table:
    "A via B"
    Chicago Transit Authority's Purple Line
    "Southbound to Loop"
    "Northbound via Loop"
    "Northbound to Linden"
    Edmonton Transit Service Bus Lines, here the 39
    "Century Park"
    trip.trip_headsign The trip headsign should be a global description of the trip, like displayed in the schedules. Could be “Linden to Linden via Loop” (Chicago example), or “A to A via B” (generic example).


    Some routes may include branches. Alignment and stops are shared amongst these branches, but each also serves distinct stops and alignment sections. The relationship among branches may be indicated by route name(s), headsigns, and trip short name using the further guidelines below.

    Field Name Recommendation
    All Fields In naming branch routes, it is recommended to follow other passenger information materials. Below are descriptions and examples of two cases:
    If timetables and on-street signage represent two distinctly named routes (e.g. 1A and 1B), then present this as such in the GTFS, using the route_short_name and/or route_long_name fields. Example: GoDurham Transit routes 2, 2A, and 2B share a common alignment throughout the majority of the route, but they vary in several different aspects.
    • Route 2 is core service, running most hours.
    • Route 2 includes a deviation on Main Street nights, Sundays, and holidays.
    • Routes 2A and 2B operate daytime hours Monday through Saturday.
    • Route 2B serves additional stops in a deviation of the shared alignment path.
    If agency-provided information describes branches as the same named route, then utilize the trips.trip_headsign, stop_times.stop_headsign, and/or trips.trip_short_name fields. Example: GoTriangle route 300 travels to different locations depending on the time of day. During peak commuter hours extra legs are added onto the standard route to accommodate workers entering and leaving the city.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Why are these GTFS Best Practices important?

    The objectives of GTFS Best Practices are:

    • To improve end-user customer experience in public transportation apps
    • Support broad data interoperability to make it easier for software developers to deploy and scale applications, products, and services
    • Facilitate the use of GTFS in various application categories (beyond its original focus on trip planning)

    Without coordinated GTFS Best Practices, various GTFS-consuming applications may establish requirements and expectations in an uncoordinated way, which leads to diverging requirements and application-specific datasets and less interoperability. Prior to the release of the Best Practices, there was greater ambiguity and disagreement in what constitutes correctly-formed GTFS data.

    How were they developed? Who developed them?

    These Best Practices were developed by a working group of 17 organizations involved in GTFS, including app providers & data consumers, transit providers, and consultants with extensive involvement in GTFS. The working group was convened and facilitated by Rocky Mountain Institute.

    Working Group members voted on each Best Practice. Most Best Practices were approved by a unanimous vote. In a minority of cases, Best Practices were approved a large majority of organizations.

    Some GTFS Best Practices have been merged into the spec and have been removed from this document.

    Why not change the GTFS Reference directly?

    Good question! The process of examining the Specification, data usage and needs did indeed trigger some changes to the Specification. The Best Practices were created to bring everyone's understanding of the spec into harmony with the intention for some to be added into the spec and undergo the larger governance process, and others to be moved into a "how-to" guide. Since then, some Best Practices have been added into the spec based on their level of adoption and community consensus. To contribute to this effort, please go to the GTFS Reference GitHub repository, or contact

    How to check for conformance with these Best Practices?

    The Canonical GTFS Schedule Validator checks for compliance against the GTFS Best Practices that can be automatically verified. Each warning corresponds to recommendations that are either explicitly suggested by the GTFS Schedule Reference, using the term “recommend” or “should,” or mentioned in this document. You can find more about this validation tool on the validate page.

    I represent a transit agency. What steps can I take so that our software service providers and vendors follow these Best Practices?

    Refer your vendor or software service provider to these Best Practices. We recommend referencing the GTFS Best Practices URL, as well as core Spec Reference in procurement for GTFS-producing software.

    What should I do if I notice a GTFS data feed does not conform to the GTFS Best Practices?

    Identify the contact for the feed, using the feed_contact_email or feed_contact_url fields in feed_info.txt if they are provided, or looking up contact information on the transit agency or feed producer website. When communicating the issue to the feed producer, link to the specific GTFS Best Practice that isn't being followed using this document (See "Linking to this Document") or the appropriate warning in the Canonical GTFS Schedule Validator if available.

    How to propose new Best Practices?

    New Best Practices are now being added directly into the spec in order to gradually consolidate both documents. If you'd like to suggest a new best practice, please go to the GTFS Reference GitHub repository, open an issue or create a Pull Request, or contact

    About This Document


    The objectives of these GTFS Best Practices are:

    • Support greater interoperability of transit data
    • Improve end-user customer experience in public transportation apps
    • Make it easier for software developers to deploy and scale applications, products, and services
    • Facilitate the use of GTFS in various application categories (beyond its original focus on trip planning)

    Linking to This Document

    Please link here in order to provide feed producers with guidance for correct formation of GTFS data. Each individual recommendation has an anchor link. Click the recommendation to get the URL for the in-page anchor link.

    If a GTFS-consuming application makes requirements or recommendations for GTFS data practices that are not described here, it is recommended to publish a document with those requirements or recommendations to supplement these common best practices.

    GTFS Best Practices Working Group

    The GTFS Best Practices Working Group was convened by Rocky Mountain Institute in 2016-17, consisting of public transportation providers, developers of GTFS-consuming applications, consultants, and academic organizations to define common practices and expectations for GTFS data. Members of this working group included:

    Today, this document is maintained by MobilityData.