3 min read

Service Alerts are Real-Time too

Service Alerts are Real-Time too
A worn out accessibility logo painted onto asphalt

Over the weekend I was able to make it to my first TransporationCamp and it was a great reprieve from the mid-west that I truly deserved. There was a lot of talk about vehicle locations, isochrones and general goodness from all of my online transportation technology friends, but I think the thing that stood out was that there is still a lot that we aren't doing enough with talk about the humble service alert.

I for one was under the impression that service alerts would be great ways for everyone to make sure that they could communicate issues with elevators effectively. Doing a bit of digging into how GTFS does this coverage in the specification I was actually surprised by the lack of locations in this file.

For those of you with a life outside of transit and technology. The pathways file is the file in the General Transit Feed Specification that shows the user how to navigate between stops. Its purpose is to make things accessible and document walkways, elevators and escalators.

I was always under the impression that pathways.txt was much like shapes.txt in the sense that these files have a lat and lon and sequence of points, but the reality is that it doesn't and honestly I am still trying to wrap my head around it.


One of the most common things that I ended up hearing from people from the conference around alerts was the inability of being able to get riders to see issues with arrivals due to a service outage or issues with the elevators at a particular station.

My sister who has the MOST adorable 3 year old. Often talks about how there is just often a lack of infrastructure for parents traveling with a child on their own. She said that there is a lack of ways to get up stairs with a stroller other than asking a stranger to grab the front to get up the stairs in an inaccessible stations.


For whatever reason we really are failing at making sure things are labeled as accessible in our rider's transit trips (you would think that an exclamation mark next to the route option would be enough 😅). When in reality this is just as much about user empathy as it is about routing.

Demonstrating Transit App's accessibility warnings

As you can see pictured above is a screenshot from Transit App that displays how they are showing off their accessibility information, which looks great, but I think that I am not sure about is if this will route me the correct way to get to the right train or bus station if an elevator is out of service.

While my sister has the luxury to just ask someone to help here with her stroller up a flight of stairs. Someone in a wheelchair does not have that same advantage. This screenshot will tell you if there is an issue with that route, but what it won't do is tell you to take the train up 2 stops and then transfer back to get to the other side of the platform so that you can use the working elevator on the opposing platform.

I think that we would benefit a lot from pursuing more accessible features of the GTFS spec and updating them to contain better location data. This would bring us into the 21st century and go a long way for making transit more accessible.