To conduct the study, TRB convened a 12-member committee of experts in public transportation management, labor, economics, and public policy. In carrying out the study, the committee reviewed previous reports on transit service contracting; conducted its own nationwide survey of public transit systems and their general managers; and interviewed transit managers, labor union leaders, contractors, and members of transit policy boards.

The study focused on fixed-route bus and demand-responsive transit services, which account for the vast majority of transit service contracts. Most of the findings and conclusions presented in this report emerged from the committee’s survey of transit systems and their general managers. In the first part of the survey, transit systems from around the country were asked to provide information on the extent to which they contract for bus and demand-responsive services and to describe their individual contracts and contracting programs. In the second part of the survey, general managers were asked to explain why they contract or do not, to relate their experiences with contracting, and to offer advice on how to make contracting work better. Part 1 yielded much detail on the amount of contracting that goes on and how contracts are obtained and structured; the results from Part 2 offer important insights about the effects of transit contracting on cost, quality, and other aspects of service.

Though highly informative, the national transit survey was a challenging undertaking, its design, administration, and analysis consuming much of the time available to the committee for deliberation and analysis. While it would have been desirable to evaluate and critique the results of other studies and databases in similar depth, doing so would have been a time-consuming and contentious process that would have impeded the committee’s ability to collaborate in conducting the survey. The committee believes, moreover, that the survey results in and of themselves are an important contribution to the field and anticipates their use by others to better understand and quantify the practice and effects of transit contracting.

The committee drew on its own varied expertise and experience to interpret the large amount of empirical information obtained from the survey. Resulting findings and conclusions are summarized in the following pages, along with additional insights and ideas for follow-on study.

Extent of Transit Service Contracting in the United States

As part of the National Transit Database (NTD), FTA maintains a database of “purchased transportation” by transit systems that have received federal aid.

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