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Rural DRT is far more diverse than its urban counterpart. There are many more DRT systems operating in rural areas across the country than there are in urban settings. Of the approximate 1,500 rural systems nationwide, the large majority provides demand-response service; there are only about 400 urban DRT systems. Rural DRT covers a wider range of system types compared with urban DRT as characterized by sponsoring organizations, types of services operated, and geographic size of service area, among other attributes. However, similarly to urban DRT, rural DRT systems are under performance pressures although the pressures may have somewhat different emphasis. Pressures on urban DRT are often related to the growing demand for service and high costs per passenger trip, particularly for ADA paratransit systems, while the issues for rural DRT often relate to funding and the need to stretch limited operating and capital resources. This means that the performance focus in any particular month for a rural DRT system may not be managing ridership demand (as it might be for a large urban ADA paratransit system), but it may well be the ability of the system to keep an aging fleet of vans in road-worthy condition for service each day. This chapter provides a framework for the Guidebook, providing a brief background on rural DRT and the broader environmentâgeographic, demographic, policyâwithin which it operates. This environment must be understood when the performance of rural DRT is addressed. 2.1 Rural DRTâItâs Different DRT is typically defined as public transit that is not traditional fixed-route, fixed-schedule, but rather a service that responds in some manner or form to individualized requests or demand for transportation service. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has defined DRT as follows: 3 C H A P T E R 2 Rural DRT and Why Performance Matters Demand-response is a transit mode comprised of passenger cars, vans or small buses operating in response to calls from passengers or their agents to the transit operator, who then dispatches a vehicle to pick up the passengers and transport them to their destinations. A demand-response (DR) operation is characterized by the following: a. The vehicles do not operate over a fixed-route or on a fixed-schedule except, per- haps, on a temporary basis to satisfy a special need, and
However, DRT in rural areas is often more than just a fleet of smaller vehicles operating in response to calls from passengers or their agents. DRT may also provide scheduled service one day each week to and from a distant medical center on an advance reservation basis. DRT may serve outlying communities only on a twice or three times per week basis, with a morning trip into the larger town and a return trip in the afternoon each day of service. Frequently, DRT also provides service for clients of local human service agencies on a contract basis. Rural systems may carry more than passengers. DRT may transport meals to home-bound seniors as part of its transportation mission, and there is at least one rural system that carries bulk mail for the U.S. Postal Service in addition to passengers. (Such non-passenger transportation service is allowable for rural providers through the FTAâs Section 5311 Program as long as such service does not reduce the availability of public transportation service.) DRT may be all of these services in rural communities; yet, the services share a common ele- ment of a trip reservation. That reservation may only be made once when an individual books the initial trip for subscription service, or the reservation may be made by a sponsoring human service agency for the rider. However, it is that reservation that makes DRT distinct from tradi- tional fixed-route, fixed-schedule service. What makes rural DRT distinct from urban DRT is the very broad range of DRT systems and services within the category of ârural.â There are many permutations by sponsoring organiza- tion, by clientele served, by the range of services provided, by the funding sources used, and by the service areas within which rural systems operate. In terms of a sponsoring organization, for example, rural DRT is provided by political subdivisions, regional entities, transit districts, Councils of Governments (COGs), various single purpose and multi-purpose non-profit human service agencies, and Native American tribal organizations. In terms of service area, there are rural DRT systems that operate within more than 10,000 square miles, sometimes with rugged terrain and limited roadways and many characterized by different âmicro-climatesâ given the large size and varying elevations that affect daily operations. Many systems serve not just their rural communities and counties, but travel long distances to large urban centers for medical trips, with such trips perhaps requiring an 8- to 10-hr day given the distances to be traveled and time required for ridersâ appointments. 2.2 The Rural Transit Environment Rural America composes 75% of the countryâs land area, but just 17% of the population (1). This translates to approximately 50 million people living in Census-defined rural areas. More than 70% of rural counties gained some population between 1990 and 2000, with most of this growth due to migration into rural areas. These trends varied across the country, however. Population gains were seen in those parts of the country with either mild climates, proximity to growing metropolitan areas, scenic landscapes, or two or three of these attributesâfor example, the Pacific Northwest and Southern Highlands including western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, among other parts of the country; there were no gains seen in the vast Great Plains (1). 4 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance b. Typically, the vehicle may be dispatched to pick up several passengers at differ- ent pick-up points before taking them to their respective destinations and may even be interrupted en route to these destinations to pick up other passengers.
From the perspective of counties, 74% have less than 50,000 population and 24% have less than 10,000, with the Midwest and the South characterized as the most rural regions in the United States (2). The population growth that occurred was still below that of metropolitan areas. According to demo- graphic researchers, the limited gains in rural population and migration slowed by the late 1990s and this slowdown has con- tinued into the 2000s (1). The migration patterns, however, continue to âageâ rural America, with rural areas gaining population in the over-age 50 groups. This is coupled with a general out-migration of young adults to urban areas, who are seeking social and economic advantages they see beyond their rural communities (3). With these trends, the rural population tends to be older and in the most rural counties, along with central urban areas, poorer, compared with urban areas. Rural poverty can be more difficult to address, with the physical and social isolation typical in rural settings. With fewer transporta- tion resources and the longer distances that must be traveled, it is more difficult for the rural poor to access the public services that are needed to help address poverty (1). Access to health care is also a critical need in rural areas, where the problem may be as basic as the availability of healthcare facilities and providers. Rural counties that lack an urban area have roughly one-fourth the number of doctors per 100,000 population as do urban counties, and small rural counties have just one-sixth as many medical specialists per 100,000 population as do the metropolitan areas. Moreover, access to the medical care that is available is made more difficult because of the distances involved (1). Rural transit operates within this environment, serving predominately those population groups who lack private transportation options. The mission of rural transit is often to provide, for those who depend on transit, the needed connections to medical services, grocery and retail stores, social services, employment, community college, and more. These services and facilities often require long trips and ongoing resources to sustainâresources that are often strained and stretched. It is a tall order. What We Know About Rural Transit Given the diversity of the countryâs rural areas, it is not surprising that rural transit and, specif- ically, rural DRT are often quite different from their urban counterparts. A recent survey effort by the National Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) and the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) has identified more than 1,480 rural transit systems in the coun- try (4). With information provided by respondents to the survey, various characteristics of rural transit emerged. Almost half of the organizations providing rural transit are local governments such as cities and counties (49%); not quite one-third (31%) are non-profits; 11% are transit authorities; 7% are provided by âotherâ entities such as regional planning agencies and university transit systems; and a very small 1% are provided by Native American tribal organizations. The survey showed that many rural transit systems provide more than one type of transit ser- vice. The vast majority (89%) provide demand-response service. Somewhat less than one-third (31%) provide fixed-route service, and 18% provide route or point deviation services. More than two-thirds of the rural systems operate transit services directly, with their own staff. About 13% use a contractor, and 17% have a combination of directly operated and contracted Rural DRT and Why Performance Matters 5
service. A small 1% indicated they are brokers, where the transit entity distributes trips to vari- ous service providers. Regarding their service area, the largest proportion (43%) is county-based, another almost one-forth (23%) serves multi-county areas, and one-fifth operates predominately in a single town or small city. About 9% operates in a multi-town area, which in some cases would be sim- ilar to a county-based service. In terms of their vehicle fleets, the largest proportion of rural transit agencies operate fleets of fewer than ten vehicles (43%), and about one-third (34%) have vehicle fleets of 10 to 25 vehicles. Another 11% have larger fleets of 26 to 50 vehicles, and 10% operate 51 to 100 vehicles. A small 2% have fleets larger than 100 vehicles. The survey findings estimate that there are more than 32,000 vehicles used for rural transit although it is acknowledged that this is likely overstated.1 In terms of staff, the survey data indicate that the average rural system has 25.5 employees (full-time employees[FTEs]). More than 90% of rural systems have fewer than 50 employees. Regarding finances, somewhat over half of the rural systems (57%) reported total annual oper- ating revenues of less than $500,000. What About Rural DRT? For a closer look at rural systems that operate demand-response only or demand-response in addition to route deviation and/or fixed-route, sample data from TCRP Project F-12 (published as TCRP Report 127), which focused on rural and small urban transit systems, can be reviewed.2 From the total survey respondent database for that study, data on rural systems that provide only demand-response service or demand-response in addition to fixed-route/route deviation can be extracted.3 Information from this dataset shows that rural DRT generally shares the characteristics found for all rural transit through the RTAP/CTAA survey referenced above, as would be expected since the large majority of rural transit systems operate some demand-response service. However, for some characteristics, the sampled TCRP data provide a more detailed look at rural DRT. Regarding service area, the TCRP survey data show that rural DRT systems are most frequently operated at the county level, with the next most frequent at the multi-county level, followed by the municipal level (see Table 2-1). This is similar to overall rural transit. The fleet size information also shows that rural DRT is quite similar to all rural transit. The average fleet size for rural DRT systems, based on the TCRP sample data, is 22.5; the average for overall rural transit systems, according to the RTAP/CTAA survey, is 21.9. The vast majorityâ more than 75%âof rural DRT and of general rural transit systems have 25 or fewer vehicles in their fleet. In terms of type of organization, rural DRT services tend more frequently to be provided by non-profit agencies than is the case for all rural transit where government agencies are the most frequent provider. The TCRP survey data, which is more finely grained than that of the National RTAP/CTAA data, show that the most common type of rural DRT provider is a private, non- 6 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance 1 By comparison, the 2007 Rural NTD estimates the total rural transit fleet at about 18,500 vehicles; however, this is somewhat understated as not all rural systems are represented in the database. 2 TCRP Project F-12 was published in 2008 as TCRP Report 127: Employee Compensation Guidelines for Transit Providers in Rural and Small Urban Areas. The project was conducted by the KFH Group, Inc. 3 Of the TCRP F-12 studyâs total of 367 survey respondents, which represented 45 states, 200 are rural demand- response providers.
profit multi-purpose agency, with the second most common type a department of county gov- ernment (see Table 2-2). 2.3 What Does All This Mean for Rural DRT Performance Assessment? Information and data about the general rural environment, rural transit, and rural DRT suggest that the assessment of rural DRT performance should be approached with acknowledgment of several âtruths.â These include the great diversity among rural systems and the fact that the mission of the rural transit agency can have a strong influence on performance. Where a rural DRT system transports riders 100 miles round-trip to a medical facility because its mission is one to serve the life-sustaining needs of community residents who lack private transportation, productivity will be low. Additionally, while less âtruthâ than fact, rural DRT per- formance assessment must also recognize that data collection resources and practices can influence performance reports, particularly regarding mode-specific service for multi-modal rural systems, and that cost performance data may not be com- prehensive, particularly where the rural transit agency is part of a larger organization. Rural DRT and Why Performance Matters 7 Table 2-1. Percentage distribution of rural DRT systems by service-area type.* *Source: Survey data collected for TCRP Project F-12. Service-Area Type Percentage of Total Single municipal area 15% Multi-town area 9% Single county 44% Multi-county 32% Indian tribal reservation <1% Totals 100% Table 2-2. Percentage distribution of rural DRT systems by organization/agency type. *Source: Survey data collected for TCRP Project F-12. Organization/ Agency Type Percentage Distribution Department of County Government 19% Department of City Government 15% Private, Non-ProfitâTransportation Only 16% Private, Non-ProfitâMulti-Purpose 32% Transit Authority 12% Private, For-Profit 1% Other 5% Totals 100%
This is not to disparage the significant efforts made by rural transit systems to collect and report performance data; yet, as described by the research projectâs panel overseeing the devel- opment of this Guidebook, âhistorically, data collection and reporting have not been rigorous among DRT systems.â Regarding data collection and reporting, from the standpoint of assessing the performance of rural DRT as opposed to general rural transit, what must be recognized is that operating data for DRT is often combined with data for other modes, particularly route deviation. This becomes a challenge when trying to evaluate DRT as a distinct mode. A related challengeâagain where rural transit systems operate more than just demand- responseâis that operating costs are often not allocated to the different modes. This makes it difficult to assess the cost-related performance of rural DRT. For example, if the rural transit sys- tem operates both demand-response and route deviation (also called deviated fixed-route and flex route), the differences in cost per passenger trip are difficult to know unless the costs are allo- cated to the two distinct modes. For example, assume a fictitious rural transit system that operates both DR and route deviation for a total annual cost of $800,000 and 20,000 annual vehicle-hours, distributed between the modes 75%â25%, as shown in Table 2-3. Based on total system data, the cost per passenger trip is calculated to be $10.67, irrespective of mode, as shown on the top half of Table 2-3. However, a more nuanced evaluation would allo- cate costs to the two modes, with the result that the operating cost for the demand-response ser- vice is $625,000 and $175,000 for route deviation, as shown in the bottom half of the table. With the two separate costs and with operating data segregated by mode, it can be determined that the cost per vehicle-hour and cost per passenger trip vary by mode. In fact, for this fictitious system, the cost per route deviation passenger is 12% higher than for a demand-response passenger. With a higher productivity on demand-response as compared with route deviation (4 versus 3 passenger trips/hour), the cost per passenger trip is less on demand- response even though the cost per hour is more. This more detailed assessment of cost performance data might suggest that the rural transit system take a closer look at its route deviation service. But for many rural systems, it may be difficult to collect and calculate the more comprehen- sive operating and performance data that would allow for more detailed and instructive assess- ments. This may be due to the transit systemâs staff resources and available technology that can facilitate data collection. Where the rural system is a part of a larger organization, for example, it may be difficult to obtain the data that would show the proportionate costs that should be allocated to the different modes. 8 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance Table 2-3. Example of multi-modal rural transit system performance data. Annual Performance Data Based on Total System Data Total Operating Costs Total Vehicle Hours Total Passenger Trips Operating Cost/ Vehicle Hour Operating Cost/ Passenger Trip $800,000 20,000 75,000 $40.00 $10.67 Annual Performance Data Based on System Data Allocated by the Systemâs Two Modes Operating Costs Vehicle Hours Passenger Trips Operating Cost/Vehicle Hour Operating Cost/ Passenger Trip Total DR Cost Total Rt Dev Cost Total DR Veh. Hrs Total Rt Dev Veh. Hrs Total DR Pass. Trips Total Rt Dev Pass. Trips Op. Cost/ DR Veh. Hr Op. Cost/ Rt Dev Veh. Hr Op. Cost/ DR Pass. Trip Op. Cost/ Rt Dev Pass. Trip $625,000 $175,000 15,000 5,000 60,000 15,000 $41.67 $35.00 $10.42 $11.67
Beyond these âtruthsâ and facts about rural DRT, there are a variety of factors that influence performance day-to-day. This may include the considerable deadhead time and miles required because of a large service area, or it may be policies and procedures related to no-shows. Some of these the rural DRT system can control, at least partially; others, it cannot. It is thus important to understand the context of rural transit and specifically rural DRT when assessing performance. This Guidebook attempts to provide that context. More importantly, the Guidebook provides how-to resources for rural DRT performance measurement. What are the key data that should be used? How are the data elements defined, and what data are used for what measures? Once the performance data are calculated, then what? These are the same resources provided for urban DRT systems in the companion guidebook, TCRP Report 124. As in TCRP Report 124, this Guidebook provides sample data from representative DRT sys- tems around the country, providing reference points for rural DRT systems assessing their own performance. The Guidebook also provides information gleaned from these sampled systems about actions and strategies that they have used to improve their own performance. Again, these can serve as reference points for other DRT systems interested in considering performance improvements. While the nuts and bolts of performance assessmentâdata collection, reporting, and measur- ing data over time and perhaps against other systemsâmay seem just another task in an already too long list of to-dos for rural transit managers, DRT performance does matter. It needs to be reported so that the manager can demonstrate to the communityâthe systemâs riders as well as its staffâwhat the system has accomplished. It needs to be assessed so that the system can build on what works and then try and fix what could work better. Reporting and assessing performance also matter so that the case can be made to local, state, and federal leaders and policymakers that rural transit is well-deserving of continued financial support. Rural DRT and Why Performance Matters 9