National Academies Press: OpenBook

Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies (2021)

Chapter: Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Transit Agency Survey." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26204.
×
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10 This chapter describes the purpose, method, and results of the survey regarding transit plan- ning challenges at small and mid-sized transit agencies. Purpose Purposes of the survey of small and mid-sized transit agencies were to • Confirm a set of categories of transit planning challenges faced by small and mid-sized transit agencies in the United States for use in organizing the synthesis report. • Obtain high-level information about transit planning challenges that surveyed agencies have faced, along with their corresponding solutions. • Identify potential case examples for higher-detailed transit agency conversations. Method The research team developed a set of survey questions intended to obtain the aforementioned outcomes. This questionnaire was reviewed by the synthesis panel and is provided in Appen- dix A. It addresses the following categories of transit planning challenges: • Ridership and Demographic Shifts • Funding Challenges • Service Delivery and Technology Changes • Service Design • First- and Last-Mile Transportation • Changes in Land Use. The research team then generated a list of 60 transit agencies to receive direct invitations to participate in the survey. These invitees consisted of small and mid-sized transit agencies throughout the United States providing 11,000 to 7.7  million annual trips. Direct invitees included transit authorities and municipal, county, tribal and social service transit operators. The purpose of the direct invitee list was to ensure that operators of diverse types, sizes, and locations would be represented in survey responses. The research team also generated a list of relevant industry trade organizations and transpor- tation agencies and asked them to allow us to invite survey participants via their mailing lists, discussion forums, and conferences or expositions. This was done to ensure participation from a large number of transit providers. C H A P T E R 3 Transit Agency Survey

Transit Agency Survey 11   Using the online tool Qualtrics, the research team created a survey from the survey question- naire, and it was pilot-tested by the panel. The revised survey was launched on January 6, 2020, and remained live for 7 weeks, until February 21. After the online survey was launched, the research team reached out to the direct invitees and publicized the survey via the aforementioned industry trade organizations and transportation agencies. While the online survey was live, the research team followed up via email and phone as needed to encourage participation. Results The research team received 156 completed surveys and achieved a 70% response rate from the direct invitees or “comparable operators”—those of similar size and type and located in the same geographic region. Survey respondents are listed in Appendix B. Characteristics of Survey Respondents Figure 2 shows the distribution of survey respondents based on annual unlinked passenger trips provided (i.e., size). There are many more small transit operators than large in the United States, and this is reflected in the target values. The figure demonstrates a generally close cor- respondence between the actual distribution of survey respondents based on size and target distribution. Figure 3 shows the distribution of survey respondents based on their organizational structure. Values in the table reflect organizational types as reported by the respondents in the survey. As the figure shows, most survey respondents are public agencies. Figure 4 shows the geographic location of survey respondents, which includes all U.S. regions. It should be noted that a few states are over-represented because of particularly strong efforts to encourage survey participation by their respective state DOTs and transit associations. Figure 5 shows that most survey respondents describe themselves as providing some degree of rural transit service. Among respondents, 42% indicated they provide a mix of urban, suburban, and/or rural transit services. Figure 2. Characteristics of survey respondents—annual unlinked passenger trips. 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Up to 4 million 4,000,001 to 9,999,999 At least 10 million Responses Target

Figure 3. Characteristics of survey respondents—type of organization. 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Public transportation agency, government, or other public entity Non-profit or human services agency For-profit private transportation provider or transportation contractor Other Figure 4. Characteristics of survey respondents—location and FTA Region. Note: Dots denote the location of the respondents’ headquarters (e.g., Little Rock for Arkansas DOT).

Transit Agency Survey 13   Survey Findings The research team then reviewed, tabulated, and summarized responses to survey questions about transit planning challenges. Appendix C contains selected survey responses. The first survey objective was to confirm the categories into which planning challenges would be organized for the research. The six initial challenge categories determined by the project panel are described in Table 2. For each challenge category, the survey asked agencies if they have faced and/or resolved a challenge in that category. If the response was “yes,” the challenge category was deemed to be relevant for that agency. Table 3 shows that five of the six initial challenge categories were rel- evant to at least half of the respondents. When asked to identify specific planning challenges they have faced and/or additional chal- lenge categories, survey participants provided 2,134 responses. Specific planning challenges identified included affordable housing, coordination with partners, improving efficiency, fleet management, conducting outreach, improving safety and security, and conducting staff training. Not all specific responses fit into the initial challenge categories, so the research team analyzed and classified the most common challenges into five main themes: • Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing • Lack of Adequate Funding • Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff • Service Planning/Redesign • Microtransit and FMLM Access. For many survey respondents, shifts in demographics or land use have resulted in new demand generators and changing ridership patterns, as well as competing mobility options such as TNCs in some areas. In other areas, the loss of riders among non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and other situations due to state policies have led to a decline in transit ridership, suggesting that service design adaptation is needed. However, lack of planning staff or expertise on staff often thwarts the molding of transit into a service that former and prospective riders choose. As a result, fewer choice riders are selecting transit because the service designs no longer effectively attract them. For example, a common theme in survey responses was the conundrum between focusing resources on providing frequent service for the few (at the cost of service coverage) vs. providing transit coverage for the many (at the cost of frequent service). Several other respondents Rural Suburban Urban Figure 5. Characteristics of survey respondents— type of operation.

14 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Initial Challenge Category Potential Transit Planning Challenges Ridership and Demographic Shifts How can we increase ridership? How can we recover ridership that has been lost to other modes? How can we support aging in place? How can we adapt to serving a new market (such as choice riders)? How can we prepare for the impacts of Census 2020? Funding Challenges How can we obtain funding to sustain current operations? How can we obtain funding to support expansion? How can we develop sustainable, long-term funding sources? What funding options are out there, and how do we evaluate them? What are the pros and cons of the funding options available to us? What resources do we need to obtain and manage such funding sources? How do we develop in-kind contributions to offset our costs? How do we find a local match? How do we respond to changes in regulations that impact our eligibility for specific funding sources? Service Delivery and Technology Changes How can we improve the quality of transit service that we provide? How do we most effectively measure our current performance? How do we estimate the impacts of various investment alternatives on our performance? Which emerging technologies could help us improve performance? How do we implement those technologies? What resources (such as staff, equipment, funds, and training) are needed to support the new technologies and get the most value out of them? Service Design How can we design a transit service that meets agency and community goals in the most cost-effective way? How can we determine what service structure is best for the community? How can we balance the level of service provided and service coverage? What tools and investments do we need to develop and manage a particular type of service? Where can we get training on service design and service planning? How do we respond to new state or federal regulations that affect how we design services and manage our assets? Table 2. Potential transit planning challenges in the initial challenge categories.

Transit Agency Survey 15   mentioned the potential benefits of wanting to pilot/implement innovative services such as microtransit to replace underperforming routes, provide transit to areas or at times that are not conducive to fixed-route transit, and solve unfulfilled FMLM needs. Many of these transit agencies were not sure how to go about this or whether it could work for them, pointing to a lack of planning staff or other resources. Other survey respondents, though, forged ahead with such services, while others developed innovative approaches to meeting FMLM needs or “getting people there” through other means. Others implemented targeted outreach, in combination with transit services tailored to specific markets, to increase ridership. The need for more funding was a universal sentiment. While survey respondents in some states have tapped into supplementary dedicated funding sources, others mentioned interesting funding approaches to meet specific needs. Several respondents indicated they are looking at ways to reduce costs, including migrating to more fuel-efficient fleets. Without technological expertise, it is difficult for many small urban and rural transit agencies to understand the types of technology that can help with service planning and operations. Quite Initial Challenge Category Potential Transit Planning Challenges First- and Last-Mile Transportation How can we effectively provide first- and last-mile transportation (access to and from fixed-route transit)? What first- and last-mile connections should we focus on? How can we effectively work with others who provide first- and last-mile transportation (including TNCs and micromobility providers)? How can we effectively work with the agencies and governments that provide and maintain roads, sidewalks, and bicycle facilities? Changes in Land Use How can we react effectively to changes in land-use patterns (such as rural lands being developed with suburban uses)? How can we predict such changes and their likely impact on transit needs? How can we influence or participate in land-use policy decision-making (such as land development code amendments)? How can we influence or participate in land development processes (such as site plan approvals)? Table 2. (Continued). Initial Challenge Category Respondents Indicating Challenge Category is Relevant Ridership and Demographic Shifts 90% Funding Challenges 83% Service Delivery and Technology Changes 81% Service Design 77% First- and Last-Mile Transportation 58% Changes in Land Use 39% Table 3. Relevance of initial challenge categories.

16 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies often, they lack financial resources to bring the needed expertise in house. Even if the right technology can be identified, there are inadequate resources to afford support staff to maintain it over time. In these situations, many transit systems have ruled out implementing technology in such a way. In contrast, some survey respondents moved ahead with implementing new technology to excellent results, while others developed low-cost technology solutions. Table 4 shows that the five main themes align generally to the initial challenge categories. Changes in Land Use was combined with Ridership and Demographics in the Service Innova- tion, Tailored Services, and Marketing theme because fewer than half of survey respondents identified it as a relevant challenge. The major areas of the survey focused on whether small and mid-sized transit agencies encountered challenges in specific areas, if they did something about it, and if they did some- thing that positively addressed the challenge. Given the specific survey responses, the research team concluded that conducting at least 20 mini case examples organized around the five survey themes would yield adequate diversity in size, geography, approaches used to solve transit plan- ning challenges, and operator success stories and lessons learned, while addressing their transit planning challenges. The second survey objective was to identify candidate case examples. This process is described in the next chapter. Initial Challenge Category Respondents Indicating Challenge Category Is Relevant Comparable Survey Theme Ridership and Demographic Shifts 90% Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Funding Challenges 83% Lack of Adequate Funding Service Delivery and Technology Changes 81% Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Service Design 77% Service Planning/Redesign First- and Last-Mile Transportation 58% Microtransit and FMLM Access Changes in Land Use 39% See Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Table 4. Initial challenge categories and survey themes.

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Diverse small and mid-sized transit agencies are very interested in finding solutions for their transit planning challenges. They will benefit from seeing how similar agencies deal with their transit service issues. Large transit agencies could also apply what is learned to sub-areas in their transit service area that are comparable to the service area of a small or mid-sized transit agency.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Synthesis 154: Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies documents innovative practices for solving transit planning challenges faced by small and mid-sized transit agencies. These challenges include but are not limited to concerns about ridership, demographic shifts, first- and last-mile transportation, changes in land use, changes in regulations, service design, funding challenges, service delivery, and technology changes. These challenges are applicable to fixed-route, flex-route, and demand-responsive transit services.

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