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

Chapter:Chapter 6 - Conclusions and Future Research Needs

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Conclusions and Future Research Needs." 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 6 - Conclusions and Future Research Needs." 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.
×
Page94
Page 95
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Conclusions and Future Research Needs." 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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Page95

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93   This chapter summarizes the findings of the synthesis research. It also discusses knowledge gaps and future research needs. Survey Findings Diverse small and mid-sized transit agencies are very interested in finding solutions for their transit planning challenges, as evidenced by the number of survey respondents and level of detail in their responses. The level of survey participation also indicates that many transit agencies that have successfully addressed one or more of their planning challenges are willing to talk to other transit agencies about how they accomplished it. The survey process and results further indicate that several state DOTs and transit associa- tions have a strong interest in helping the transit agencies within their geographic boundaries solve transit planning challenges. Based on what respondents deemed to be relevant to their situation, challenges related to service innovation, tailoring services to specific markets, and marketing appear the most urgent. This is followed by funding challenges and challenges related to service delivery and technology. However, the case examples suggest that the solution to one transit planning challenge might solve, or at least mitigate, another. For example, as some case examples show, service innova- tion and tailored service projects might mitigate funding challenges, or at least help agencies get more value out of their funding. Survey responses overall confirm the research conclusion recounted in Chapter 2, indicat- ing that transit service improvements typically associated with large urban transit systems are indeed within the reach of small and mid-sized transit systems. Case Example Findings Practices that case example agencies found useful in addressing their transit planning chal- lenges are: • Getting buy-in. Getting buy-in from decisionmakers, partners, the public and other stake- holders is critical to addressing transit planning challenges. Transit agencies can educate themselves about what is important to a given audience, figure out the right message for that audience, back it up with data, and actively reach out. Transit agencies might hear “no,” but this need not be a reason to get discouraged. They can plan to play the long game (i.e., be patient) and reinforce their message often. This might include investing in sustained, C H A P T E R 6 Conclusions and Future Research Needs

94 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies comprehensive marketing and making sure transit agency needs are reflected in every update of relevant state, regional, and local plans and programs. • Maintaining relationships. Transit agencies can interact with elected officials and decision- makers to build trust in the agency. They also can interact with their partners often to look for opportunities to team up and share resources and knowledge. • Developing new relationships. Transit agencies can proactively develop relationships with new partners in the public and private sectors, including local governments, nonprofits, pri- vate businesses, and educational institutions. Patience may be required to see these relation- ships fully realized, but potential benefits include securing additional funding and assistance in providing public transportation services. Transit agencies also can reach out to peers to learn more about how they address their planning challenges. • Involving multiple transit agency staff. Transit agencies can involve multiple transit agency departments and roles in developing solutions to transit planning challenges. Including drivers and dispatchers, for example, can be very valuable in producing workable solutions. • Making full use of state DOT resources and industry trade organizations. These resources include technical assistance and educational opportunities, as well as funding. State DOTs and industry trade organizations also can take advantage of economies of scale, which means that educational opportunities, tools, or other helpful resources might be available faster or at a lower cost. If a transit agency needs a resource that is not available from state DOTs and industry trade organizations, it can ask them about opportunities for developing that resource. • Making full use of federal resources. Small and mid-sized transit agencies might not be aware of all the federal resources available to assist with funding and planning. Appendix E includes links to some of these resources. • Participating in a regional transit system. Partnering with other public transportation pro- viders in the region might enable regional transit connections and produce operating and funding efficiencies. • Establishing guiding principles and clear goals. Transit agencies might find value in establishing guiding principles and clear goals to inform their decision-making. • Developing a technology implementation plan. One case example agency highly recom- mends developing a technology implementation plan that can be phased in, is multidisci- plinary, and addresses development of data standards and annual costs after the first year of implementation. • Allowing time for everything to come together. Transit agencies can plan for iterations and adjustments as everybody involved in the project learns and adapts. They can be flexible and recognize that they might have to adapt established processes (e.g., existing procurement processes) or develop new ones. Some case example agencies found in testing or early imple- mentation phases that simplifying their project made it more successful. • Using transit planning tools carefully. Available transit planning tools can be helpful resources, but it is important to understand how they work, what their limitations are, and how to tailor them to a specific transit system. • Testing potential solutions. Pilot tests can be beneficial in proving the viability of and opti- mizing concepts. It is important to test potential solutions under realistic conditions (e.g., testing peak-period transit services during peak periods) and incorporate user feedback throughout. • Focusing on the customer. Transit agencies can go out into the community to learn about the public’s needs, and solutions can be tailored to those specific needs. Transit agencies can make any system or service changes as easy as possible for their riders and give them one- on-one and face-to-face attention as needed. Interacting with members of the public one on one may require a lot of resources, but it can be worth it—and small and mid-sized agencies may be better positioned to accomplish it than large ones. Also, it is important to keep in

Conclusions and Future Research Needs 95   mind that word-of-mouth recommendations in favor of transit services and programs can be very effective in growing ridership and furthering partnerships. • Taking advantage of opportunities to obtain training and keep it up to date—especially tech- nology training. Transit agencies can budget for training and proactively seek training oppor- tunities. Agency leaders can be sensitive to different learning styles within the organization and, ideally, identify those who have the passion to lead efforts to obtain and implement new technologies. Training can be more efficient when resources are allocated based on how much individual employees need training. • Being transparent. Transit agencies can let community members know that it is listening to them, actively working to address their needs, and managing public funds effectively and accountably. In turn, transit agencies can let the community know what it needs. Future Research Needs Lessons learned from the case examples suggest opportunities to develop and disseminate detailed practice-based guidance about addressing specific transit planning challenges. The sur- vey also identified several transit planning challenges that could not readily be classified into the five main survey themes or be addressed with a relevant case example. Collectively, these outcomes indicate potential topics for future research and include the following: • How do small and mid-sized transit agencies establish and get value out of their relationships with state DOTs, MPOs, local governments, and other partners at federal, state, regional, and local levels? How can small and mid-sized transit agencies be good partners with these entities in turn? These questions suggest research such as: – Developing a guide to assist small and mid-sized transit agencies in working with partner organizations. – Developing a guide to assist small and mid-sized transit agencies in developing and nego- tiating intergovernmental agreements. – Identifying best practices for implementing FTA-required CHSTPs. • How do small and mid-sized transit agencies establish and get value out of relationships with the private sector? How can agencies be good partners with private-sector entities in turn? This question suggests research such as developing a guide to assist small and mid-sized tran- sit agencies in working with developers or other private-sector actors. • How do small and mid-sized transit agencies effectively integrate their services where their service areas or markets overlap? For example, if a rural transit agency carries passengers to a small urban area using a demand-responsive service, what happens to the passengers when they arrive in the small urban area? How are transfers made? How is fare payment managed? These questions suggest research such as developing a guide to service integration for small and mid-sized transit agencies, which could address viable technologies, coordination, incen- tives, cost-sharing models, and more. Additionally, given how quickly technology changes, it may be worthwhile to repeat this syn- thesis effort periodically (e.g., every 5 years). Future iterations of this synthesis effort also can incorporate lessons learned from newly implemented solutions to transit planning challenges.

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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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