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6 C H A P T E R 2 This chapter describes transit planning challenges, their impact on small and mid-sized tran- sit agencies, and how research to date has addressed those challenges. In particular, this chapter focuses on how the challenges and solutions are related to needs and opportunities unique to small and mid-sized transit agencies. Transit Planning Challenges Because they share a common goal of providing people efficient and effective transit services, transit agencies of all sizes and types face planning challenges (Center for Urban Transporta- tion Research [CUTR] 2009). Transit agencies also share an inability to control many external factors that influence service efficiency and effectiveness. These include population and job density, roadway congestion, and parking availability, as well as land-use patterns and federal, state, regional, and local politics (City of Seattle 2008). Maximizing efficiency and effective- ness under these circumstances requires sound, informed and, sometimes, innovative transit planning. Tools available to support high-quality transit planning include the use of design standards, performance measurement processes, and decision-making frameworks that address various aspects of transit service delivery (CUTR 2009). These include convenience, reliability, travel time competitiveness, accessibility, cost, comfort, and safety. Figuring out the correct approach to improving service delivery might require data, analysis tools, and skills that are beyond the reach of transit agencies with limited funding and staffing (City of Seattle 2008). It also might require technology, vehicles, infrastructure, and outreach that, due to limited funding and staff- ing, are unavailable to transit agencies. Researchers have documented practices for maximizing transit efficiency and effectiveness. These include (City of Seattle 2008) â¢ Implementing marked bus stops with appropriate spacing (e.g., widely spaced stops) to increase operating speed. â¢ Providing service at such a high frequency that riders do not feel they need to consult a schedule. â¢ Designing bus stops that help buses re-enter traffic. â¢ Implementing prepaid fares and passes to increase the speed of boarding and alighting. â¢ Using low-floor buses with wide doorways to increase the speed of boarding and alighting. â¢ Implementing transit priority treatments to reduce travel time. â¢ Implementing automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems so bus operations can be monitored in real time. â¢ Managing passenger loads onboard buses to avoid overcrowding. Background
Background 7Â Â â¢ Increasing hours and days of transit service. â¢ Ensuring convenient transfers between transit services. â¢ Increasing rider comfort by enhancing transit stops with amenities such as shelters and seating. â¢ Ensuring bus stops are accessible (e.g., by providing appropriately designed sidewalk connections). â¢ Ensuring vehicle cleanliness. â¢ Hiring drivers who are friendly and understand the transit system. â¢ Sharing a fare structure with other transit operators in the area. â¢ Providing transit information in an easy-to-understand manner. â¢ Supplementing primary transit service with FMLM connections. â¢ Providing real-time information at transit stops and online. However, some of the above-listed practices might be difficult to achieve by agencies with limited resources. For example, how could a transit agency with no local dedicated funding source sustain a higher-frequency bus service? Does a transit agency with only a few staff have the skills to implement an on-demand FMLM service? Which are the transit agencies with lim- ited resources? Small and Mid-Sized Transit Agencies For this synthesis, small and mid-sized transit agencies are those that provide fewer than 10Â million trips per year. They are assumed to have fewer resources for transit planning and service delivery than their counterparts in large urban areas. These small and mid-sized agen- cies probably do not receive dedicated funding from sales tax revenue, and they probably do not have staffs of hundreds. They most likely serve lower-density populations, which may be rural and small-town areas. Small and mid-sized agencies may serve one or more downtown areas or pockets of higher density, but not at the same scale as their large urban counterparts. To the extent they operate in rural and small-town environments, small and mid-sized transit agencies serve riders who typically need to travel farther to reach services akin to those avail- able in larger urban areas (e.g., specialized hospitals). Rural and small-town areas also tend to include, on a per capita basis, riders who are more transit-dependent (e.g., senior and lower- income riders), and these areas tend to spend less per capita on transit service (Litman 2017). Research indicates that many agencies lack the resources to meet the growing demand for transit in rural areas (Litman 2017). Research to Date Research to date has identified several categories of impacts resulting from transit service investments or modifications. These include (Litman 2019) transit agency costs and impacts on existing transit riders, mobility, efficiency, travel time, land use, and economic development. While research related to those impact categories is relevant to small and mid-sized transit agencies, much of it does not necessarily focus on the unique circumstances at such agencies. One research effort that explored the unique circumstances of rural transit agencies con- cluded that many rural communities use innovative partnerships and diverse funding sources to finance improvements in public transit and that these programs tend to be cost-effective. The research concluded that many rural communities have shown that transit service improve- ments are possible even if resources are limited and the improvement is more typically associ- ated with a large urban transit system (Litman 2017). Taken from that research effort, TableÂ 1
8 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Name Description Service Quality User Costs Government Costs Taxi Subsidies Private taxis receive subsidies for certain types of trips. Users pay any additional fares. Moderate to high, depending on local taxi service availability. Vary, depending on the size of subsidy and length of the trip. Vary. Volunteer DriversâOwn Vehicles Nonprofit organizations coordinate volunteer drivers who provide rides in their own vehicles. Low, limited to what volunteers can provide. Users may be asked to help pay for gas. Vary. May help reimburse drivers. Community Buses Nonprofit organizations use volunteer or paid drivers to offer rides in subsidized vehicles (usually vans). Low to moderate, depending on resources. Vary. Users may be asked to help pay expenses. Low. Help fund vehicles. Paratransit (Demand- Response) Nonprofit organizations or government agencies coordinate paid drivers using vans or small buses. Moderate, depending on resources. Vary. Generally require a fare of several dollars. High. Vanpool Services A transportation agency or employer group helps organize commuter vanpools. Good for longer commute trips. Low compared with driving a private vehicle. Very low. Vanpools are generally self- supporting. Fixed-Route Transit Bus Services Government agencies or contractors operate buses on scheduled routes. High in the service area, depending on resources. Generally, require moderate fares. Moderate to high. Integrated Regional Transit Services Local and regional agencies coordinate public transit services to connect communities. High, depending on funding. More funding allows more service. Generally, require moderate fares. Moderate to high. Rural Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) Comparable to rural âUbers,â these ride- hailing services are app- based and can connect drivers with passengers. High, depending on where the services are available. Can be as low as $1 per mile. Low. Some grant funding/ government contracts. Note: Various types of public transit services can be appropriate in rural areas and small towns. Source: Adapted from Litman 2017. Table 1. Public transit services for smaller communities. describes public transit services that, depending on specific circumstances and needs, can be suitable for implementation in smaller communities. FigureÂ 1 lists resources to support rural transit planning. Evaluating Public Transit Benefits and Costs (Litman 2019) provides a framework for evalu- ating the costs and benefits of transit service investments. It includes procedures and tools that could be used by small and mid-sized transit agencies (e.g., an approach to measuring the value
Background 9Â Â âLivable Communities,â American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website. William Dieber, et al. (2014), Planning Transportation to Meet the Needs of an Aging Illinois: An Assessment, Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement. Elizabeth Ellis and Brian McCollom (2014), Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance, TCRP Report 136, Transportation Research Board (TRB). Ranjit Godavarthy, Jeremy Mattson and Elvis Ndembe (2014), Cost-Benefit Analysis of Rural and Small Urban Transit, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. Kenneth I. Hosen and S. Bennett Powell (2014), Innovative Rural Transit Services: A Synthesis of Transit Practice, TCRP Synthesis 94, TRB. KFH Group (2014), Effective Approaches to Meeting Rural Intercity Bus Transportation Needs, TCRP Report 79, TRB. Brian J. Morton, Joseph Huegy and John Poros (2014), Close to Home: A Handbook for Transportation- Efficient Growth in Small Communities and Rural Areas, Web-Only Document 211, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), TRB. National Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) website. âRural Transportation,â National Center for Mobility Management website. âTransportation to Support Rural Health Care,â Rural Health Information Hub website. Rural Transportation.org website. Small Urban & Rural Transit Center website, North Dakota State University. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2015), Smart Growth Self-Assessment for Rural Communities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Source: Adapted from Litman 2017 Figure 1. Rural public transit planning resources. of transit usersâ time). It also calls out framework elements wherein application of the frame- work might differ for small and large transit systems. For example, the document notes that it generally is expected that transit services in rural areas and smaller cities likely are to rely more on larger subsidies per passenger mile than transit services in large cities. This is due in part to differences in the missions of rural/small city and large city transit agencies. CUTR developed a customizable model for short-term planning of fixed-route bus service. Best Practices in Transit Service Planning (CUTR 2009) provides guidance to assist transit agen- cies in developing a framework for transit planning that applies to their needs and is achievable given their resources. The framework speaks to service design, performance measurement, and service evaluation and provides specific guidance for small and mid-sized transit agencies. For example, in the context of establishing performance measures, the document discusses how the âroute directness ratioâ (a performance measure that represents transit travel time) applies to different transit service types, including local bus routes in small communities. An additional resource to support the planning efforts of small and mid-sized transit agen- cies is Oregon DOTâs Transit Development Plan Guidance (ODOT 2018). While this is not the only document available to assist agencies in preparing transit development plans (TDPs) or other types of transit plans, ODOT guidance is targeted to smaller and rural transit agencies in Oregon. It discusses how to scale a TDP effort given available agency resources and provides information about readily available data sources and analysis methodologies.