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1 CHAPTER 1 Introduction to Suburban Transit Services Overview land-use connections, the lack of availability and lack of con- sistency of these resources limit their applicability. Further, in An overriding thesis of the modern condition is that the detailed case studies, neither the land use nor the transit mobility is becoming increasingly complex. Nationwide, eco- data suggest specific approaches to predicting efficiency or nomic growth has led to commercial expansion reaching far- effectiveness, though the trends described can provide guid- ther and farther out to suburbia, creating more settings to ance in the development of such services. which the transit industry has been asked to respond. These As was found to be the case in the original research, deter- suburban communities are creating less dense, more auto- mining the success of suburban transit services remains ulti- dependent environments. For the transit industry, these types mately a policy-related task. Success appears to be measured of communities have been historically the most difficult to in a wide variety of ways at the local level, which will be dis- serve because they lack the density to support fixed-route and cussed as part of the guidebook. The policy perspective lack the finances to support demand-responsive services. regarding the success or failure of many suburban services is Because of the increasing fuel prices and the continuing often not based on typical quantitative performance meas- demand from constituent groups (such as older adults) to urement factors, but rather on qualitative concepts, such as provide more mobility options, the need exists to revisit the value added to the community. These findings suggest that state of the practice in the delivery of suburban services. although suburban transit service delivery remains more of The typical trip purposes that are served by suburban tran- an art than a science, the combination of innovation and sit services include long-distance commute, connections to technology--including the use of geographical information the regional transit network, and intracommunity connec- systems (GIS) incorporating land-use data--may lead to tions. A large percentage of the suburban services provided in more uniform solutions in the future. the preliminary and detailed case study sites were developed to offer service in areas with relatively low demand for tran- sit. These services included both fixed-route and demand- Summary of Findings responsive services. Many of these services, especially route-deviation and demand-responsive, focus on providing The goals of this research were to examine the current sta- area coverage, but they also provide connections to the tus of suburban transit, from both operations and land-use regional bus system. The increase in population and develop- perspectives, and to develop guidelines for evaluating, select- ment in new or growing suburban areas has also resulted in ing, and implementing those services. The guidelines would be an increase in commuter services in corridors that access in the form of a guidebook that would inform both technical those suburban areas, especially commuter bus services. As a staffs and policy boards. The research was conducted by a mul- result, the typical suburban system today includes local, tidisciplinary team and included evaluation of approximately regional, and commuter services. 30 preliminary and 7 detailed case studies. The evaluation As will be discussed, although there has been much work included substantial communication and understanding of in the transit industry to wrestle with the difficulties of sub- those preliminary and detailed case studies and was compiled urban transportation, including developing a long list of in the findings and conclusions of the research. innovative, technology-enhanced services, there are no "one Unlike some research efforts that focus on the mathematical size fits all" solutions. Although emerging databases and formulas associated with specific public transit issues, this resources can be used to assist transit agencies in planning research, as will be described more thoroughly below, reinforces
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2 the importance of public policy decisions within an area that is · It appears that more agencies are grappling with the issue still developing. These policy-related perspectives, combined of how to provide services in areas that cannot support with the technical results of other research, yielded the following fixed-route services. Some options, such as point and route findings: deviation, appear to be accepted by local communities in some areas but not accepted by others. One increasingly · The state of suburban transit services continues to evolve implemented option is to expand the role of demand- just as the state of suburbs also evolves. For example, as responsive services, many times requiring order taking and suburbia extends into new areas, the formerly suburban real-time scheduling by vehicle operators. areas begin to resemble the downtown areas of decades · It also appears that many of the alternatives to fixed-route ago, thereby further stretching the resources required to services are developed with the goal of expanding suburban adequately connect those new suburban areas with public transit service coverage, which is sometimes counter to the transit. goal of fixed-route services, which is to maximize produc- · Although the menu of solutions (commuter service, tivity. Some of the alternative services eliminate the need for regional connection, and local circulation) remains similar delivering separate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from prior studies, the decision-making process to retain complementary paratransit services by blending ADA- or withdraw these suburban services is primarily based on eligible clients into the suburban service solutions. local policies, which are substantially influenced by the · Additional research may prove beneficial by focusing on availability of local funding. non-fixed-route options and the potential to coordinate · Measurement processes for these services can also vary human service transportation (as exemplified by the Fed- from a relatively stringent, quantitative analysis (e.g., meet- eral United We Ride program) with options for ADA para- ing a minimum ridership-per-hour threshold) to a less transit. Although the demand for ADA paratransit service stringent, qualitative analysis (e.g., maintaining commu- has increased significantly in both urban and suburban nity control of local circulators). Denver Regional Trans- locales, the cost of the service is outpacing the funding portation District (RTD) uses a modified performance sources. level evaluation for all of its suburban transit services. This · Although the specificity of land-use data and the unifor- evaluation can serve as a model for other agencies to con- mity of suburban transit data were not as good as the sider and will be described in detail in the guidebook. research team originally anticipated they would be, there · Efforts by the research team to more specifically analyze the appear to be various general trends and conclusions that land-use connection with suburban transit services pro- will increase the understanding of the complexities of sub- vided mixed results. The research team found that the use urban transit services and underscore the importance of of information on density, diversity, and design compo- the local policy-making process. nents had potential to assist with transit planning at the local level, but not at the national level. Because the land- This research did not result in easy-to-adapt findings or use data were inconsistent and difficult to assemble into a concrete guidelines because many aspects of public transit uniform format, and because the attributes of the services service delivery, whether from the planning perspective or varied greatly from location to location, it was not possible policy perspective, remain more art than science. However, to develop a comparative analysis that could be used in the findings of this research will still help policy boards bet- general throughout the country. In fact, several research ter understand service options and attributes. The research team members believed that further national collection of ultimately identified several applicable traits that can help those specific land-use data (e.g., percentage of persons transit agencies think about the issues involved in suburban employed in manufacturing) would not expand the value transit services. of those data, and perhaps the best incorporation of land- The final report for this project is available online as TCRP use data would be at the local level as recorded and ana- Web-Only Document 34 at http://trb.org/news/blurb_detail. lyzed at the local level. asp?id=6526.