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5. Synthesis of Major Findings

Section 2 of this document provided detailed analyses of the transportation mobility needs of the American population in general and of the transportation disadvantaged in particular. These analyses have identified the myriad of barriers that exist in meeting those needs. Section 3 presented a detailed discussion of the solutions (both technological and other approaches) that can be used to overcome those barriers and reflected upon the gaps that remain to be addressed.

This section provides a synthesis of those needs, gaps, barriers, and conventional solutions. Subsequent sections will introduce a proposed solution that goes beyond conventional solutions (Section 6) and provide recommendations for next steps in the overall MSAA initiative (Section 7).

5.1 Summary of Transportation Mobility Needs

At the most basic level, the needs of existing and potential transportation customers are quite simple – whether transportation disadvantaged or not, they have a need to get from point A to point B in a timely, safe, and reliable manner. This simple need was broken out by key trip components (planning the trip, accessing the system, riding/using the transportation, and arriving at the destination). The needs were prioritized in Section 2 using the research that was conducted on unmet needs and verified by the discussion group stakeholders. As prioritized in order of importance, these components can be disaggregated into the following critical elements:

  • The need for service – Simply put, services must exist that facilitate a traveler's desire to move from place to place during various times of the day and week.
  • The need to know about the service and how to plan a trip – Unless a traveler is aware of the existence of transportation service and understands how to plan a trip and use the service, the service cannot fulfill that individual's needs.
  • The need for accessibility – Assuming that service is available and the traveler is aware of the service and understands how to plan the trip and use the service, the traveler also needs to be physically able to access and exit the system. This need applies to all individuals, but is of particular criticality to many of the nation's transportation disadvantaged.
  • The need for reliability – Advocates, service providers, and other stakeholders clearly identified the need for transportation services to be reliable in terms of the service areas, schedules, and accessibility of vehicles. This is particularly important if transit is to compete as a viable alternative to other modes of transportation.
  • The need for flexibility – Finally, to be of maximum utility to the user, transportation services must be flexible. That is, the services need to be able to accommodate unexpected changes in a traveler's desired itinerary (e.g., change in appointment time, desire to add destinations to a trip of multiple destinations, etc.).

5.2 State of the Practice and a Summary of the Gaps

Ensuring that the needs summarized in Section 5.1 are met is the role and mission of the Nation's transportation providers. Traditionally, they have performed this mission well. Millions of passengers are safely and reliably transported throughout the Nation every year. Many consumers, especially the transportation disadvantaged, have developed personal bonds with operators and have had their lives enriched by their transit experiences. Countless lives have been improved through access to transportation service. In the team's literature review and assessment of current practices, it became clear that despite improved access, gaps still exist. As reported by consumers, Section 2.5 detailed specific gaps which exist today. The team validated these gaps in our discussions with advocacy groups, transportation providers, and public administrators. At a high level, these gaps are summarized as follows:

  • Many areas of the country, especially rural areas, still have no transit service.
  • Other areas offer services only at very limited times of the day and week.
  • First-time users and those travelers looking to book trips outside their traditional service area face significant hurdles in locating information on transportation services and understanding how to use the systems.
  • Paratransit customers must often book days or many hours in advance, thus limiting flexibility.
  • Many travelers continue to struggle with accessibility. Even where accommodations are made, they are often inconvenient or not adequately maintained and operated.
  • Customers often experience difficulties when travel requires the use of multiple transportation services. Planning for these situations is typically difficult, connections are often inconvenient, and fare payment is complex.

These gaps, already of significance today, will become even more critical as the population continues to age. In the coming years and decades, millions of Baby Boomers are expected to become increasingly dependent on public transportation as a means to meet their mobility needs.

5.3 Options for Addressing Transit Mobility Gaps and Barriers to those Options

Fortunately, the gaps that were identified are not insurmountable. In fact, solutions to address these gaps are quite well known. For example, as Table 5-1 indicates, a number of straightforward steps such as expanding service coverage areas or increasing staffing levels can be used to enhance transportation service significantly.

Table 5-1. High-Level Solutions to Address Transportation Mobility Gaps
Transportation Mobility Gaps High-Level Solutions
Lack of service.
  • Expanded service areas.
Limited service.
  • Extended service hours.
  • Increased service frequency.
Hurdles in locating information and understanding how to use the systems.
  • Enhanced marketing and outreach.
  • Increased staff to field questions and provide assistance.
Limited flexibility.
  • Increased reserve capacity (greater number of vehicles and drivers).
  • Increased coordination between human service agencies and transportation.
Limited accessibility.
  • Increased investment in accessibility.
  • Increased staffing levels to provide more personalized assistance.
Difficulties with chained trips.
  • Increased staffing levels to assist in trip planning.

However, the challenge in addressing transportation mobility gaps lies not in identifying high-level solutions, but rather in trying to implement these solutions in a resource-constrained environment. As the following formula indicates:

Service = Resources × Productivity

Thus, an increase in service offerings can be achieved through an increase in resources, productivity, or both.

5.3.1 The Resource Solution

Turning first to resources, it is evident that many of the gaps identified in this study could be addressed through the simple application of additional transit vehicles, operators, managers, and dispatchers. However, such a move would face significant barriers. The deficits and budgetary challenges that face many of the Nation's States and localities and the need for transit to compete with other priorities including schools, roads for automobiles, and public safety present significant obstacles to increasing transportation spending. Consequently, the overall MSAA Initiative and the remainder of this document will focus instead on increasing transportation service through improvements in productivity.

5.3.2 The Productivity Solution

Here, too, barriers exist. One of the biggest challenges is that many transportation systems continue to operate in a "20th Century Command and Control environment." For example, dispatchers and customers do not know to a high degree of precision where vehicles are located in real-time. This both erodes reliability and reduces flexibility. In the demand-responsive environment, many transit systems still develop scheduling and routing plans based on human intuition and estimates. This translates to increased inflexibility and often leads to sub-optimal use of resources.

Invoicing, particularly for human services transportation operations, is another significant source of inefficiency. A lack of standardized requirements among the many different funding agencies and a reliance on pen and ink record keeping leads to significant resource requirements, introduces substantial opportunity for errors, and may translate into costly lag times in receiving payments.

Institutional issues also provide significant barriers to increased transportation productivity. For example, numerous transit providers have expressed the need for greater cooperation and integration between fixed-route and paratransit services. This lack of integration typically means that these separate providers cannot reliably count on one another to provide support capacity in the event of service surges. As a result, both agencies must either increase their available reserve fleet or offer lower service at peak times. On a related note, participants in the MSAA discussion groups noted the inefficiencies that exist as a result of jurisdictional boundaries. Owing to historical inertia and difficulties in fare collection, transportation providers are often resistant to providing mutual-aid support to surrounding jurisdictions. This leads to sub-optimal transfers for the passenger and ineffective resource use by the providers.

The final barrier to improved productivity lies within the concept of diminishing returns. That is, there are few gains that remain to be achieved through traditional methods. Increased productivity is not a new focus to transit agencies. They have and continue to conduct periodic analyses of demands and service offerings in order to restructure routes and maximize resources. Transit agency personnel have undertaken training to improve driver and dispatcher performance. Some agencies have even explored service consolidation and the development of hub and spoke systems where demand-responsive vehicles can deliver passengers to centralized transfer centers serviced by frequent fixed-route service. Consequently, few if any gains remain to be achieved from traditional approaches to increasing productivity.

5.3.3 The Role of Technology

Having reached the point of diminishing returns from traditional approaches to improving transit service, providers are increasingly turning towards new, technology-based solutions. These solutions have been discussed in detail in Section 4 and include:

  • The use of fleet management systems such as AVL and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to improve service reliability and allow service improvements through increased asset utilization.
  • The use of scheduling software to allow, among other benefits, greater flexibility and to reduce required lead times for service.
  • The use of advanced traveler information systems to improve customer awareness and understanding of transit services.
  • The use of automated invoicing/billing software systems that allow complex cost allocation; improve accuracy; and facilitate inter-agency, inter-program coordination.
  • The use of Electronic Fare Payment to facilitate payment and access to service.

The rate of adoption of these technical solutions has been, and continues to be, impressive. For example in 2002, 36 percent of all paratransit vehicles in the nation were operated using CAD. [68] By year-end 2005, this number is estimated to increase to nearly 70 percent.

The benefits offered by these systems are equally impressive, for example in:

  • Acadia National Park implemented a vehicle locations and stop/station arrival times project that received a very high rating from customers. Visitors rated the ITS-based traveler information sources very highly (86 percent or more) on attributes of ease of use, understandability, and accuracy, and reported that the information helped relieve the stress or uncertainty of travel. The vast majority of users (78 percent or more) believed using the same ITS-based information again in a future visit would be a pleasant experience. [69]
  • Northeast Florida improved productivity in all three counties using new scheduling software. Specifically, St. Johns County reduced its office staff from 9 to 4.5 full-time equivalents (FTEs), while increasing daily trips from 150 to 300, resulting in a cost savings of $58,000 per year. The time required to schedule trips was reduces from about 6 hours a day to 2 hours a day, while the number of trips increased significantly.[70]
  • Ventura County, California: The Smart Card electronic payment system saved an estimated $9.5 million per year in reduced fare evasion, $5 million in reduced data collection costs, and $990,000 by eliminating transfer slips. [71]
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina: The CAD/AVL paratransit system decreased operating expenses by 8.5 percent per vehicle mile, and decreased the cost to transport a passenger by 2.4 percent per trip.

Finally, it is thought that greater benefits could be achieved using technology deployments to the enhance coordination efforts. Typically, most ITS deployments, including those for improving transportation services, have been applied in a stove-piped fashion. That is, technological operations that integrate across the breadth of multiple modes, service providers, or service areas are rare. For example, each of the citations above involved deployments of technological solutions at and for a single transit agency.

Where technology has been used to integrate multiple modes of transportation, it has not yet been deployed in depth. For example, the New Mexico CRRAFT system described in Section 3 has performed an excellent job of integrating invoicing requirements for all transit providers in the State. However, the system has not yet been expanded to include trip planning and scheduling support capabilities.

To truly maximize the benefits of technology, and to better address the gaps summarized at the beginning of this section requires the development and application of an integrated, coordinated travel management system. Preliminary thoughts on what such a system may look like are provided in Section 6.

Footnotes

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