NeTEx – the future standard for data transfer

Published June 20, 2023 in Blog

Having purchased a new journey planning tool, you know passengers are going to love using it. Franchised operators will run fleets of shiny EV buses to a high frequency timetable, and crowds will gather around the bus interchange, with chants spontaneously breaking out; “Public Transport is the One”, “All hail the PTA”.

You rush down to the interchange. It is empty! No buses, no passengers, a door creaks on its hinge, tumbleweed rolls across the platform. What went wrong?

Back at the office, bespoke interfaces piled up behind the doors of IT. A post mortem showed a suite of great products but no way to share the data. No NeTEx!

Perhaps this is a bit extreme, but sharing data in a Public Transport network is not a given.

Various PT systems like the planning system, ticketing, AVLC, Journey Planner and others, need to share data. To make the most of this we need to be sure that:

    • Everyone is talking about the same thing,
    • The data is complete,
    • We can extend the data to include new forms of PT, and
    • The data is in a format that everyone can understand

NeTEx is a standard created in Europe for the exchange of routes, stops, timetables, and fares. Its development is facilitated by Data4PT and it is designed to provide the base data for planning and other PT systems by:

    • Standardizing data exchange between different transport providers, improving data quality and reducing errors
    • Allowing transport providers to easily exchange data with each other, reducing the need for manual data entry and increasing efficiency
    • Providing a common format for data exchange between transport providers, making it easier to integrate different systems
    • Improving passenger experience by providing more accurate and up-to-date information about public transport services

Common understanding

When data is shared, both the supplying and consuming systems must have the same view of what that data refers to. Assuming that the other party interprets the data in the same way as you can easily lead to misunderstandings. Definitions of a Trip or a Journey may vary. Is a Block the same as a Run? What is a stop – a logical point, or a physical place?

Solving this is the first data exchange problem, and the CEN Transmodel was created to do just this. Transmodel is a conceptual model that harmonises terms across the industry for both conventional public transport and alternative transport types. There are other models but internationally there is no equivalent model in terms of depth and reach, making this the logical choice for data terminology.

NeTEx data on computer

Complete data

Once both systems have the same data in common, the next challenge is to ensure that the transfer mechanism delivers all the data that the two systems need. There is no point in providing an interface file with timetable information to a journey planning system if it does not contain fare structures, as a passenger will not be able to use this information to make valued transport judgements. The transfer mechanism must allow for all sets of data to be included.

NeTEx is the first systematically engineered standard that also covers multimodal fares. The NeTEx schema is free to use under a GPL License. NeTEx was designed to replace legacy standards including: VDV452, Neptune, IFOPT, TransXchange, NOPTIS, IFM, BISON, and others.

The most relevant standards in Australia are SIRI, and GTFS. SIRI complements NeTEx by focusing on the exchange of real-time information about schedules, vehicles, and connections. It uses Transmodel thus retaining consistency with NeTEx.

NeTEx and GTFS formats are also complementary, covering different stages in the data management process: NeTEx is “upstream”, GTFS is “downstream”. Although GTFS is a widely used format, NeTEx has a much wider scope than GTFS. NeTEx is intended for use where data is generated and integrated (requiring the exchange of additional elements to construct the timetable) whereas the prime purpose of GTFS is just to provision third parties journey planning systems.

Extending the Data

Public Transport never stands still. New modes are evolving such as vehicle sharing (bike, car, shuttles), vehicle pooling, rental, and on demand transport. The data formats need to evolve to reflect these modes. NeTEx does this by including specifications for vehicle sharing, vehicle pooling, vehicle rental, transport network companies and taxis. In particular, the new NeTEx Part 5 provides details of fleets, stations, booking and fare offers.

NeTEx data for public transport

Formatting the data

Getting the data in a format that everyone can understand is important. Ideally a single file is all that needs to be exchanged – avoiding complex file naming conventions, multiple files describing different types of elements, and rules for naming and packaging the files. The use of XML makes the file human readable as well as clearly defining the content. XML also means that the file can be validated against the standard using the Data4PT NeTEx data validation tool.

NeTEx and SIRI are mandated for use in the EU and international support for these standards is growing. Major developers like Trapeze have already built NeTEx and SIRI support into their AVLC platforms. It is now up to Public Transport Agencies and operators to take the lead and require these standard for transfer of data between the various component of their ITS solution.

Conclusion

NeTEx and its partner standard SIRI, have been developed in Europe to interchange public transport data. Support is now available in critical AVLC systems, and requiring all systems to use these standards will allow PTAs to deliver improved data quality, increased efficiency, better interoperability, cost savings, and an improved passenger experience.

NeTEx will quickly become the default standard allowing data to get from planning to passengers, quickly and reliably. Now, when you go down to the interchange the crowds will ebb and flow, they will have smiles on their faces and the cries of “NeTEX,”, NeTEx”, “NeTEx” will echo across those hallowed halls. You will have made a difference and life will be good.

Sources:

  1. “NeTEx – Network Exchange – European Standard for Data Exchange in Public Transport” (https://netex.org/)
  2. https://enturas.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/PUBLIC/pages/728563782/General+information+NeTEx?preview=%2F728563782%2F728662143%2FPublicationDelivery-separate-frames
  3. https://data4pt-project.eu/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2021/04/3-NK_Differences-between-standards.pdf
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David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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