Ask the Experts–Public Transportation Challenges

What is the biggest challenge facing public transportation agencies?

One of the biggest challenges facing public transportation agencies across the country right now is finding sufficient and reliable sources of funds to not only adequately operate and maintain existing systems, but also to manage implementation of new capacity.

Cambridge Systematics has been examining future financing needs and options to meet the nation’s public transportation needs and has assessed alternative sources of short- and long-term transportation revenue. Cambridge Systematics is at the cutting edge of transportation funding, whether is it new sources of revenue to meet growing system needs or winning New or Small Starts grants for major capital projects. Our work has ranged from the consideration of new revenue measures, to innovative finance opportunities that can leverage available Federal, state, local, and private funds and increase the financial feasibility of proposed investments.

How can public transportation agencies better manage their transportation assets?

Public transportation agencies nationwide are facing increasing challenges in managing their transportation assets and determining how to best invest in their networks. Cambridge Systematics offers a set of tools that can help public transportation agencies manage investments in vehicles and infrastructure and balance different types of investments to help best maintain a transit system in a state of good repair. For the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Cambridge Systematics is developing the Program Guidance and Grant Evaluation System (PROGGRES) that predicts vehicle maintenance needs over time and assists in evaluating and ranking proposed vehicle renewal and transit service improvement projects. For the Massachusetts Bay transportation Authority, Cambridge Systematics has implemented the Pontis® Bridge Management System with custom features to manage transit bridges and other structures. Additionally, Cambridge Systematics recently developed the AssetManager NT tool that can be used for optimizing asset investments and that can be configured to predict a range of different performance measures using data from an agency’s existing management system.

How can market research help public transportation agencies?

Marketing strategies for public transportation agencies must reflect the needs of target customers in order to increase ridership. Cambridge Systematics currently is combining advanced market research techniques with the firm’s extensive experience developing strategic transit plans to give public transportation agencies a new approach to increasing ridership and improving productivity.

Cambridge Systematics’ approach defines distinct market segments representing shared attitudes and preferences. Understanding these segments, in terms of their unique attitudinal, travel behavior, and socioeconomic characteristics, gives public transportation agencies a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges they face in attracting ridership from each segment. Agencies then can use this knowledge to significantly improve ridership with existing resources, including the development of tailored marketing campaigns for specific segments that can increase ridership. Cambridge Systematics has developed a suite of tools that help public transportation agencies with this analysis, including market segmentation, measures of transit intensity and competitiveness, and a geographic information system (GIS)-based service planning tool that allows transit planners to evaluate a wide array of transit service options. Cambridge Systematics has used these market research techniques successfully for several public transportation agencies, including the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board, Capital Metro Transportation Authority, Pace Suburban Bus Service, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and the Utah Transit Authority.

Is there a way to understand how much public transportation is worth?

Demonstrating the value public transportation provides to local and regional economies can help decision-makers make better choices about public transportation investment. Cambridge Systematics is renowned for our transparent and defensible methods of measuring this value. Economic impact analyses helps improve decision-making about the allocation of limited funds by providing reliable information on how alternative transit investments can meet economic development goals and ultimately improve local and regional economies. Cambridge Systematics has quantified transit’s economic impacts for numerous clients, including the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Envision Utah, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Additionally, in response to Congressional direction to begin rating the economic development impacts of New and Small Starts projects, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) selected Cambridge Systematics to help shape and implement this important criterion.

Tom Harrington is the Regional Manager of the Transportation Planning and Management business line in the Cambridge Systematics Washington D.C. office. He has more than 20 years of experience in transportation planning, travel demand forecasting, and transit project planning. He has served as Project Manager for a number of multimodal transit systems plans evaluating high-capacity transit options, including the VIA Long-Range Transit Implementation Plan and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Regional Transit System Plan.