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BTS Celebrates Bus Month with National Transit Map (NTM) tutorial

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) is honoring #busmonth and the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) monumental #billions4buses by sharing a tutorial using the National Transit Map (NTM) Routes dataset to highlight the importance and role of buses in American society. 

Follow along with our National Transit Map (NTM) Routes dataset tutorial video to learn:

  1. Where to find the NTM datasets
  2. How to use the NTM Routes dataset
  3. How to style the data

Tuesday, April 16, 2024 3:40 PM

Find the Data

  • You can find NTM data and more from the BTS website! BTS is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation. We organize our data by topics and geography and statistical products and data and include an “A-Z” index to help support and empower transportation research. 
  • For this tutorial, we’ll navigate to the NTAD webpage. NTM datasets make up just a few of the over 90 datasets on NTAD
  • From there, we’ll head to the NTAD geospatial portal. The portal makes finding geospatial transportation data easy by organizing datasets by mode and category. NTAD also hosts a data archive.
  • You can find NTM datasets under the mode category “Transit”. You can also search for the datasets using the search term “NTM”. 
  • To celebrate bus month, we’ll take a closer look at the NTM Routes dataset. You can access the dataset directly from the portal and from its Digital Object Identifier (DOI).

Use the Data

  • NTM Routes is a spatially enabled dataset that is built by combining and geoprocessing GTFS trips, routes, and shapes text files. Upon opening the dataset on the portal, it will display a map preview.
  • By selecting “View Full Details” on the left-side pane, we can learn more about the dataset before we dig in.
  • Under the attributes section, we can take a closer look at the route types in this dataset by selecting “route_type_text”, a descriptive version of “route_type”. In their GTFS, transit agencies communicate their route types through a numeric system:
    1. Tram, Streetcar, Light rail. Any light rail or street level system within a metropolitan area.
    2. Subway, Metro. Any underground rail system within a metropolitan area.
    3. Rail. Used for intercity or long-distance travel.
    4. Bus. Used for short- and long-distance bus routes.
    5. Ferry. Used for short- and long-distance boat service.
    6. Cable tram. Used for street-level rail cars where the cable runs beneath the vehicle (e.g., cable car in San Francisco).
    7. Aerial lift, suspended cable car (e.g., gondola lift, aerial tramway). Cable transport where cabins, cars, gondolas or open chairs are suspended by means of one or more cables.
    8. Funicular. Any rail system designed for steep inclines.
    1. Trolleybus. Electric buses that draw power from overhead wires using poles.
    2. Monorail. Railway in which the track consists of a single rail or a beam.
  • A bar chart will appear that shows the most numerous route type in the NTM dataset is bus routes. We can also view a tabular version by selecting “Table”.
  • Now that we know more about the dataset, we can make a map to show off the bus routes. Under the “I want to…” section on the right, select “Create a Map” and choose the option that best fits your skills and needs. In the tutorial, we’re using the “ArcGIS Map Viewer”. 

Style the Data

  • We want our map to focus on viewing the route types and that highlights the bus routes. To do this, we’ll change the basemap to a neutral background. You can select a basemap that fits your need from the left-side pane. In the tutorial, we used the “Human Geography Map”.
  • To distinguish the route types, we’ll style the “route_type_text” attribute. You can select “Styles” from the right-side pane (shapes icon), set the attribute field to “route_type_text”, and select the “Types” style to change the route colors. 
  • For route types, we want to both highlight the bus routes and ensure they can be viewed against the basemap we selected. You can change the colorramp by selecting the pencil icon next to the color swatches. In the tutorial, we used the bright color ramp “Mushroom Soup”.
  • Next we’ll examine the routes in our map by making a chart that provides summary details on the route types. To do this, we’ll select the “Configure charts” (bar chart icon with gear) from the right-side pane.
  • We’ll build a bar chart counting the route types by selecting “route_type_text” as the category. Just as we saw on the dataset about page, the most numerous route type in NTM is bus routes.
  • We can zoom into a location to view the routes closer. To do this, you can zoom in by double-clicking, moving the mouse scroll wheel in the direction of interest, or use the search icon in the bottom right-hand side of the map. In this tutorial, we searched for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Headquarters and then adjusted to a more regional extent by panning out.
  • We can also adjust the chart to examine the view extent. To do this, simply select the “filter by extent” (bracket with filter icon) on the left-side pane of the chart.

Let’s review!

Through the NTM Routes dataset tutorial, we:

  1. Found the NTM datasets on NTAD;
  2. Used the NTM Routes dataset and learned more about it in the geospatial portal; and
  3. Styled the data to highlight bus routes and celebrate bus month.

Coming Soon!

  • More data coverage
  • More data types and access to archived data
  • More frequent data updates

Common Questions about the NTM Routes Dataset

  • Why are routes missing from the NTM? 
    In its current state, NTM is a voluntary program and ongoing effort to establish a nationwide catalog of fixed-route and fixed-guideway transit. That is, transit agencies that operate fixed route service opt-in to participate in the effort. 
  • When does NTM anticipate more data coverage?
    Beginning September 2024, NTM anticipates an influx of data and more complete coverage. As a direct result the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passage, FTA is changing its data reporting practices. On July 7, 2022, FTA posted a notice of upcoming changes to the National Transit Database (NTD). On March 3, 2023, FTA issued a final notice requiring NTD reporters to establish and submit a web-hosted General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) dataset for their fixed route service in RY 2023.
  • What is the anticipated data coverage under the FTA requirement?
    Based on the FTA 2021 Annual Database Agency Mode Service, over 1,300 transit agencies operate fixed-route transit report to FTA. Nearly 96% of these agencies operate fixed-route buses.  

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About the National Transit Map

The BTS National Transit Map is a national, openly available map of fixed-guideway and fixed-route transit service in America that allows the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to demonstrate the importance and role of transit in American society. It is gleaned from General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) Schedule data that describes a transit agency’s scheduled operations. NTM is a National Geospatial Data Asset within the National Transportation Atlas Database, a set of nationwide geographic databases of transportation facilities, networks, and associated infrastructure.

About Bus Month

Throughout the month of July, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is celebrating buses by sharing information across their social media channels about dozens of bus grants. Nearly $1.7 billion in 2023 grants will support 130 projects in 46 states and territories nationwide. The projects will result in approximately 1,700 new buses on the nation’s streets, as well as modernized facilities and worker training to facilitate the industry’s transition to zero-emission bus transit.