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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Practices for Evaluating the Economic Impacts and Benefits of Transit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24768.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Practices for Evaluating the Economic Impacts and Benefits of Transit. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24768.
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Summary The economic value of transit agency operations and investments is getting increasing attention nationwide. Studies on economic values serve a variety of purposes, from public information to sup- port for transit funding discussions, to long-range planning and project selection processes. These analyses share a common motivation, which is recognition that economic analysis is becoming an increasingly important consideration as transit agencies seek to be more accountable to their funders and constituents. The need is also increasing as many transit agencies face the challenges of funding, planning, and prioritization decisions with increasingly constrained budgets, aging infrastructure, and shifting demands and needs to ensure sustainable futures. There are two forms of economic analysis discussed in this report: (1) “economic impact” studies that portray effects on the regional economy in terms of local jobs and income, and (2) “economic benefit” studies that explore the value of transportation, environmental, and other societal benefits. Both types of studies are commonly applied, often in tandem, as complementary concepts that sup- port the business case for transit investments. This is an important finding, for it emphasizes that the two types of studies are complements, not substitutes. This synthesis report is designed to help transportation officials—at state departments of trans- portation, metropolitan planning organizations, and local transit operations—identify ways that they can most effectively incorporate economic impacts and benefits into public discussion and deci- sion making, and appropriately convey the business case for transit. It describes the methods used for assessing transit economic impacts and benefits, the types of effects that are covered by these methods, and the ways that agencies are using the information obtained for planning, prioritizing, funding, and stakeholder support. The report includes: (1) a review of 13 national reports and guides pertaining to transit economic analysis methods, (2) a review of 44 local transit impact and benefit studies that show how economic measurement is done, (3) five detailed case examples that reveal how economic studies have been developed and applied to support broader planning and decision making, and (4) a survey of transit agencies that had past experience with economic impact or benefit studies. The survey was completed by 28 agencies, an 88% response rate among 32 eligible agencies. The literature reviews, case examples, and surveys all point to the following four primary roles of transit that can be documented and communicated: 1. Transit as a source of transportation efficiency improvement that also extends the effective capacity and service areas for existing road, rail, and aviation systems; 2. Transit as a public service that provides access to job, education, and health care opportunities for dependent populations; 3. Transit as a strategic planning and development tool that affects the spatial and economic development of metropolitan areas and rural regions; and 4. Transit agency activities as a generator of jobs and income. Case examples provide additional details on the range of different contexts, sponsors, and uses of transit economic impact and benefit studies. They cover economic studies sponsored by (1) Milwaukee PracticeS for evaluating the economic imPactS and BenefitS of tranSit

2 County, (2) San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, (3) Central Atlanta Progress, (4) Itasca Group (a Minneapolis–St. Paul civic organization), and (5) Michigan Department of Transportation. The case examples show that funding, management, and interest in economic evaluation of transit comes from many different types of groups including transit agencies themselves, metropolitan planning organiza- tions, states, and community and business organizations. Moreover, studies are often completed by means of partnerships among organizations, reflecting the broad sharing of transit funding responsibili- ties as well as the degree of public scrutiny often attendant with transit investments. These case examples also demonstrate that although transit funding issues are often a motivation for initiating economic studies, they can also become a tool to aid visioning and planning. The pro- cess of conducting an economic analysis of future scenarios demands a certain degree of specificity and thus facilitates focused conversations (and assessment) about what can be reasonably expected to occur following a particular set of investments. This process is as important a determinant of study success as the methods used to measure economic impacts and benefits. The reviews of existing studies and reports also show the current state of transit economic analy- sis. They reveal that methods for measuring transit economic impacts and benefits are now more established and are being more widely applied than was the case when examined in an NCHRP study 16 years ago (NCHRP Synthesis 290: Procedures for Assessing Economic Development Impacts from Transportation Investments). Today, the multi-modal transportation efficiency effects of transit are generally understood and often analyzed, using widely available transportation analysis and economic analysis tools. In addition, ways to show the value of transit for labor market access have come into mainstream use. A growing number of studies are now including the value of transit as a public service that provides access to opportunities for dependent population groups and the value of transit to sup- port urban land development. Despite a common view that economic studies require the major staff resources of big city agen- cies, the literature review actually shows that economic impact and economic benefit studies have been successfully carried out by small, medium, and large transit agencies. The existing body of research spans many forms of transit (bus rapid transit, bus and rail lines and systems) in a wide variety of settings. The surveys revealed a consensus that both economic impact and benefit studies are useful, par- ticularly in supporting transit funding decisions. However, many survey respondents reported that they face internal funding, staff, and data challenges that have limited their ability to do more of these types of studies. They reported an interest in finding ways to address these challenges. There is clearly an opportunity for more transit systems to examine and report on their economic impacts and benefits. To realize this opportunity, transit agencies will require advice on how to make effective use of their existing resources to profile economic activities supported by transit, business markets that depend on transit access, and how emerging economic growth clusters and land develop- ments can be supported by transit. This can support a rich narrative concerning the full nature of transit impacts and benefits, and it can make a more compelling case for transit as integral to the achievement of broader economic development and community development goals.

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TRB's Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 128: Practices for Evaluating the Economic Impacts and Benefits of Transit provides state-of-the-practice information for transit agencies to help them in incorporating economic benefits and impacts into their decision-making processes, which may lead to more sustainable funding solutions for transit agencies. The report describes the methods used for assessing transit economic impacts and benefits, the types of effects that are covered by these methods, and the ways that agencies are using the information obtained for planning, prioritizing, funding, and stakeholder support.

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