About RetroRide

Revised November 14, 2017

The RetroRide project is intended to preserve transit history by transferring old information about a transit system from public timetables and other resources to General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) static transit files.  


Originally created by Google, GTFS is a universally accepted standard that is used by transit agencies worldwide to provide their data to Google Transit and other application developers in a compact format.  The GTFS standard supports information on schedule times, days of operation, bus stop/station locations, bus route shapes (the streets that the bus travels on) as well as infromation on fares.  Multiple agencies can be stored in a single GTFS file. 

RetroRide's use of GTFS

While GTFS is normally designed to be used to transmit current system information to Google and application developers, RetroRide uses the GTFS scheduling, routing and fare functionality to recreate a transit system from the past.  RetroRide then places this GTFS file into our OpenTripPlanner server which then can serve up a trip plan from the past.  Data is entered into Excel spreadsheets which allow us to easily calcuate running times between timepoints.  For bus stops, we use stop data from recent LACMTA and Foothill Transit GTFS files.  We recognize that this may not reflect the actual stops used in the past but if we do not have bus stop data from that period, we will fall back on these stops.  For stops that are no longer served by LACMTA or Foothill or in cases where the actual stop location is known and there is no current stop there, we will manually add that stop into the system.  All of this data is then parsed by a proprietary program that calculates the arrival times at the stops between the timepoints and then generates trip, route, stops and stop time GTFS files to be included in the overall feed.   GTFS feed files are then ran through GTFS Feed Validator before being sent to our OpenTripPlanner server.

The project

For Los Angeles, RetroRide is currently engaged in a project that is preserving the routings of the Southern California Rapid Transit District from 1979.  At that time, the RTD was the largest all-bus system in America.  For routes that we have schedules from the late 1970s, RetroRide is using authentic schedule data from those public timetables.  Most of our authentic schedules are in the San Fernando Valley area.  For other routes which we do not have authentic late 70s schedules, we are using schedules from the early 1980s for times, headway (time between buses) and service span (hours during the day the route operates) and for routes that were significantly restructured between the late 70s and early 80s, we will be building simulations by piecing several early 80s schedules together to revitalize the original late 70s route.  If someone contributes a scan of a schedule for the original route from the late 70s or early 80s (before restructuring), then we will replace the simulated data with the more authentic data. 

RetroRide has also preserved a GTFS file from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 2009.  There were a lot of significant changes to Metro between 2009 and 2016 thus adding to the historical significance of this 2009 GTFS file. 

When a trip plan request is sent to RetroRide, the tool will run the same inquiry based on available data from the late 70s, from 2009 and from 2016.  The tool will then display a summary of the best itineraries from all three eras.  The user then can select one of those three eras and see the actual routes that were used at that time.  

The future

Building the GTFS data for RetroRide is a very time consuming project as it does require a level of analysis and data entry and at this time, we have completed "Phase 2" of 1979 where we built the that have not significantly changed from its 1979 routing (other than route numbers) and we are using early 80s running times (minutes between timepoints on the schedule) and service spans to produce schedules for the trip planner. If we are able to obtain more authentic schedule data, we will revise those routes with more authentic data.  We also have significant authentic data for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority from the late 1950s/early 1960s and will likely go to that project after finishing Phase 2 of 1979.  

How you can help

Our major need right now is reaching out to those who collect bus and rail timetables, especially from the Los Angeles area.  We are desperately looking for SCRTD timetables from the late 70s as well as LAMTA motor coach timetables from the late 50s.  We understand how valuable some of these schedules are and we are not asking you to send us your collections but if you are able to scan your schedules on a flat bed scanner and send them, it would be appreciated as we move forward with this project.  

At this time, we are not actively searching for anything related to Pacific Electric other than information on stops and stations for the Long Beach, San Pedro via Dominguez and Watts Local lines as these routes did carry over to MCL and then onwards to MTA.  We are also attempting to identify stops for these lines as well as the streetcar lines through the use of vintage aerial maps.

Once these GTFS files get out into the world, they can be preserved.  We plan to release the 1979 GTFS file once we finish Phase 2.

We are preserving transit history by making trip planning a thing of the past!