Learning from transit performance measures and data in California

By Mary Ebeling

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) sponsored a newly released report, Transit Performance Measures in California, by the Mineta Transportation Institute, as part of the agency’s efforts to understand what data and performance measures are being used by MPOs and transit agencies in the state.  The information compiled in the report will also assist Caltrans in developing statewide transit performance metrics. Additionally, it will be a helpful reference to many other state DOTs, MPOs, and transit agencies as they seek to further develop metrics that meet the needs of modern transit service.

Researchers segmented the work into three main elements: a literature review to determine key performance measures and data sources; identification of current performance measures in use in the four biggest MPOs in California—San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Southern California Association of Governments, San Diego Association of Governments, and Sacramento Area Council of Governments—and; a summary of current performance measures in use for 26 transit agencies in California.

The literature review identified six categories of key performance measures enumerated in an earlier report, A Guidebook for Developing a Transit Performance-Measurement System, TCRP 88, as important for transit system performance.

  • Availability: Ease of transit access based on where (service coverage and/or stop accessibility), how often (frequency), and how long (hours of service) service is provided.
  • Service Delivery: Quality of passengers’ day-to-day experiences using transit, such as service reliability, quality of customer service, and passenger comfort.
  • Safety and Security: Likelihood that an accident will occur involving passengers or that a passenger will become the victim of a crime while using transit. Examples include the rate of accidents per specified distance, the injury accidents per passenger miles, quantity of safety devices and personnel.
  • Community Impact: Quality-of-life impacts on the communities served by transit such as mobility, job access, economic growth and productivity, personal finances, pollution reductions, and equitability of transit service.
  • Financial Performance: How efficiently agencies use resources to meet travel demand within their budget constraints.
  • Agency Administration: Administrative efficiency, including employee productivity, employee relations, workdays lost due to injury, and efficiency of service delivery (i.e., vehicle miles per employee or cost of administration.)

The California study identifies the following primary data sources for MPOs and transit agencies:

  • In-House: Data that transit agencies normally have on hand through good recordkeeping—for example, schedule data, system maps, service design standards, dispatch logs, maintenance records, operations logs, accident and incident records, financial data, fleet data, employee records, and complaint records.
  • National Transit Database (NTD): The primary source for data, information, and statistics on the U.S. transit systems. Reporting is required by those receiving Urbanized Area Formula Program (Section 5307) or Rural Area Formula Program (Section 5311) grants. Data examples include service area, agency information, fleet information, capital and operating funds, costs and expenses, maintenance, safety, service provided and consumed, and energy consumption.
  • Other local, state, and federal agencies: Information on external factors that help evaluate the quality and location of transit service—demographic data, traffic data, GIS data, and transportation-planning models.
  • Automated systems: automatic vehicle location (AVL), train control systems, automatic passenger counters (APC), and electronic fare boxes.

The performance measures and data sources included in the Caltrans study suggest that collecting and using data in addition to that contained within the NTD will be helpful to transit agencies and MPOs seeking to plan and deliver transit service. Historically, NTD reporting has focused on agencies’ financial position, fare revenue, rider numbers, fleet maintenance, labor, and safety. This focus has changed little over time. While these measures are important, additional information such as community impact, transit availability, and service quality is needed to properly plan for modern transit service.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.