20 minutes Date Launched/Enacted: Mar 16, 2020 Date Published: April 24, 2023
This pilot project is part of the Mobility Innovation Collaborative (MIC) program, a partnership between the Shared-Use Mobility Center and the Federal Transit Administration. The MIC program provides a comprehensive suite of technical assistance resources, promotes knowledge sharing activities, and captures stories and lessons learned from nearly 50 innovative mobility projects across the United States.
Evolving technologies have made planning trips on transit, foot, or bike increasingly accessible. Unfortunately, travelers often can only access inconsistent and often-inaccurate trip planning data. In many large US cities users can access real-time information on buses and trains through mobile apps, digital infrastructure, and data specifications like the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). In 2022, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimated that only 35% of agencies reporting for the National Transit Database (NTD) use GTFS to communicate information to their users.  Many suburban and rural transit agencies lack the capacity, staffing, and infrastructure to create and maintain these standards. These pain points weaken the information available to their customers, which hurts the quality of peoples’ trips and discourages the use of public transportation.
Since 2020, the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL) has sought to bridge the divide between transit users and the information they could access by creating its own open-source trip planning platform, ATL RIDES, and facilitating the adopting of data specifications across its many member transit agencies, notably GTFS Realtime and GTFS-Flex. GTFS Realtime and GTFS-Flex specify the format in which mobility providers present data for interpretation by app developers for fixed-route and on-demand transit services, respectively. This project has been part of a more significant effort to improve the coordination of mobility services across the Atlanta metropolitan area.
The Atlanta region is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, covering nearly 9,000 square miles and thirteen counties.  Parts of the metro area are suburban and rural, with many outer counties operating different transit services. This decentralization of transit contributes to the car-centric nature of the Atlanta region, a problem ATL has been looking to address by promoting coordination across transportation governance agencies. ATL came into formation in 2018 as a result of state legislation intending to facilitate cooperation between transit agencies, counties, and municipalities across the Atlanta region.  When the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) grant, ATL recognized a chance to improve trip planning for transit customers across its service area. ATL brainstormed the project concept and sent a mini-scope to consulting organizations, circumventing a traditional procurement process involving a request for proposals (RFP). Through discussions with different vendors, ATL agreed to partner with IBI (now a subsidiary of Arcadis). Listing IBI a project partner in the FTA grant application expedited the procurement process. In March 2020, the FTA awarded ATL an IMI grant of $430,400, giving ATL and IBI the capacity to build a platform that improves the trip planning experience for transit users across the region. ATL collaborated with several transit agencies to develop the platform upon receiving the grant.
ATL RIDES is a mobile and web-based platform where users can access real-time information necessary for planning trips. As of Spring 2023, ATL RIDES is in beta mode, meaning that ATL invites a limited number of users to test and offer feedback on improving the platform. Any user can visit atlrides.com to plan their trips across the Atlanta region. The mobile app is not yet released to the public, so susers must receive a special invitation from administrators at ATL to participate in the beta test. Participants access can request access through a Google Form distributed via email to project partners, regional transit advocacy groups, and other IMI grantees nationwide. On both platforms, users can enter origins and destinations as either specific addresses or general points of interest; if individuals plan their trip ahead of time, they can also specify their scheduled departure or arrival times on the platform. Upon entering their trip specifications, ATL RIDES offers users trip information based on whether customers prefer to use transit, walk, drive, or bike. Additional trip preferences, such as wheelchair accessibility and comfortable walking distances, can also be set. On the map for ATL RIDES, users can also see all Park & Ride locations and transit stops.
Information on ATL RIDES is supported through static and real-time GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) feeds from MARTA, CATS, CobbLinc, Connect Douglas, Ride Gwinnett, and ATL Xpress. These agencies operate fixed-route buses, microtransit, heavy rail, and a streetcar system in downtown Atlanta. ATL RIDES can also use GTFS-Flex, an extension of GTFS, to provide information on demand response and microtransit services from the participating transit agencies. GTFS-Flex feeds are in development at several Atlanta-region transit agencies and will be incorporated into ATL RIDES as soon as practicable. ATL is also using OpenTripPlanner, an open-source mapping and routing tool, as part of the underlying infrastructure for the platform.
During this initial deployment, ATL RIDES functions as a discovery platform, meaning that users can use the platform to learn about available mobility options when planning their trips. When entering trip details, users get information on different trip options based on their mode preferences, including transit routes, estimated travel times, and fares. In the future, ATL hopes to incorporate transactional/booking capabilities so that transit and shared mobility customers can pay for their trips directly through the ATL RIDES platform. On the beta platforms, users can provide feedback on their experience with ATL RIDES. ATL and its partners hope to use feedback from the beta users to address concerns like design and functionality. Notably, the source code for ATL RIDES is open; ATL hopes that peer communities in other regions can adapt the source code to create similar trip-planning applications in the future. While people can use ATL RIDES to plan car trips, it is designed primarily as a multimodal trip-planning tool, encouraging people to use transit and other shared mobility services.
Planning officials hope that ATL RIDES transforms the transit ecosystem across the Atlanta region as the first platform to offer users real-time data on mobility services. Going into this process, many participating transit agencies needed real-time feeds providing information on their transit services. Alongside developing the ATL RIDES platform, ATL and IBI facilitated the development of these feeds. They offered guidance and technical assistance to these agencies, many of which have rural service areas. Moreover, the ATL RIDES project itself promotes better cooperation between transit agencies and the integration of their services, improving the quality of public transit for the region. As an open-source product, ATL hopes that other areas can adapt the architecture of ATL RIDES to their transit services soon.
The Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority has funded the development of ATL RIDES primarily with an Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) grant of $430,400 awarded in 2020.  Development of the platform is also funded through federal formula funds, state dollars, and some local sources. Some dollars from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) also support the development of feeds for GTFS-Flex so that ATL RIDES can provide discovery information for demand response and microtransit services. Ultimately, GDOT hopes its support for ATL RIDES can result in a statewide trip-planning platform.
ATL has worked closely with the participating transit agencies to develop or update their GTFS feeds, providing resources and technical assistance for intensive data collection and management needs. Different agencies have different levels of institutional knowledge, resources, and capabilities, which in the past has resulted in discrepancies in collecting the GTFS feeds. IBI has hosted workshops with smaller agencies to offer technical assistance.
For the beta testing phase of ATL RIDES, ATL has solicited feedback from a limited number of community members. ATL offered private access to the smartphone app, where community members are prompted to provide feedback. When the ATL RIDES platform moves to final deployment, ATL and the participating transit agencies plan on marketing the platform through traditional means, including newsletters, social media, and news outlets.
ATL RIDES is a free and open-source platform with the aim of easing peoples’ experiences planning their trips across the Atlanta region. With that in mind, ATL RIDES has various accessibility features incorporated into its platform:
ATL hopes to continuously improve the ATL RIDES platform to account for the needs of people with disabilities; doing so is an iterative process.
Overall, ATL has been successful in developing ATL RIDES, but not with some challenges along the way. These challenges include:
For ATL, developing a regional planning platform has been an experimental process. Unexpected challenges came up that required patience and creative solutions.
For ATL and its member agencies, ATL RIDES is a starting point for inter-agency collaboration and integration of transit services across the Atlanta region. Developing the platform has been an experimental process for ATL and its transit agencies. ATL and other government agencies hope that ATL RIDES evolves into a product that supports more transit services and offers booking and payment options, improving peoples’ trip planning experiences across the Atlanta region and, hopefully, the entire state of Georgia.