Small Urban and Rural Center on Mobility

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Report Published: Use of Alternative Fuels and Hybrid Vehicles by Small Urban and Rural Transit Systems

A new report published by SURTC studies the use of alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles by transit systems in small urban and rural areas. Transit agencies of all sizes across the country have been or are considering using alternative fuels or hybrid-electric vehicles. Smaller agencies may face greater difficulties in transitioning to alternative fuels or hybrids due to infrastructure costs, reliability and maintenance issues, or other concerns.

To better understand the problems and benefits with using biodiesel, E85, propane, natural gas, and hybrid vehicles in smaller communities, a survey of 115 small urban and rural transit agencies was conducted. This study described the use of alternative fuels and hybrids by these transit providers; identified motivating factors and deterrents for adoption; described the experience of transit agencies that have adopted these alternatives, including costs, fuel economy, maintenance, reliability, and overall satisfaction; and examined differences between those agencies that use these alternatives and those that do not, as well as difference between rural and small urban areas.

Larger agencies and those operating in urban areas tend to be more likely to adopt alternatives than smaller, rural providers. Improving public perception, reducing emissions, and reducing operating costs tend to be the greatest motivating factors for adoption, while concerns about infrastructure and vehicle costs, maintenance, and fuel supply are the greatest deterrents. Those agencies that have adopted alternative fuels or hybrids have been mostly satisfied, but some problems were identified. Findings provide useful information to policy makers as well as transit operators considering adoption of alternative fuels and hybrids.

For more information, contact Jeremy Mattson at jeremy.w.mattson@ndsu.edu. The publication can be downloaded at the following link: Use of Alternative Fuels and Hybrid Vehicles by Small Urban and Rural Transit Systems

SURTC Winter Newsletter Published

The Winter 2012 issue of the Transit Lane Brief has been published and is available online. This issue features articles on a new advanced transit management course being developed by SURTC, coordination pilot projects in North Dakota recently launched by SURTC, a new study on effortless passenger identification systems, a completed study on the importance of vehicle supplier attributes, a recently completed workshop on diversity, and an upcoming SURTC webinar on tribal transit funding. The current and previous issues can be downloaded from the SURTC website.

SURTC Fall Newsletter Available Online

The Fall 2011 issue of the Transit Lane Brief has been published and is available online. This issue features articles on a new tribal transit management course developed by SURTC and a recently completed tribal transit assessment study, as well as updates on other projects and recent staff changes. The current and previous issues can be downloaded from the SURTC website.

Developing Input to "Best-Value" Vehicle Procurement Practice: An Analysis of Supplier Evaluation and Selection in the U.S. Public Transportation Industry

A new SURTC study conducted by Marc Scott titled "Developing Input to 'Best-Value' Vehicle Procurement Practice: An Analysis of Supplier Evaluation and Selection in the U.S. Public Transportation Industry" has been published and is available online.

This research studies vehicle procurement decision-makers at public transportation agencies to determine which criteria, or supplier attributes, they perceive to be the most important when evaluating vehicle suppliers. Results indicate that the top five attributes are quality, reliability, after-sales support, warranties and claims, and integrity. The order of these top five attributes changed according to the type of supplier being evaluated, i.e., conventional fuel vehicle supplier versus alternative fuel vehicle supplier. The reason for this change was explained as being due to the increased engineering and technological expertise required of alternative fuel vehicle suppliers.

Tribal Transit Assessment Study Completed

A new report titled "5311(c) Tribal Transit Funding: Assessing Impacts and Determining Future Program Needs" by SURTC associate research fellow Jon Mielke has been posted online.

The study assesses the impacts of the federal 5311(c) tribal transit program and future program funding needs.

Over 100 tribal entities were identified as having received start-up or enhancement program funding since 2006. Grantees were surveyed to identify impacts associated with the receipt of program funds, all of which are available for operating and capital purposes with no local match requirements. Program funding increased from $8 million for FY 2006 to $15 million for FY 2009, 2010, and 2011.

The study reviews prior work regarding personal mobility need indicators as they pertain to Indian reservations, as well as prior and ongoing work concerning the growth in local tribal transit services since the late 1990s.

Survey responses were analyzed to identify former and current ridership levels, trip purposes, and funding sources. Results were also compared to National Transit Database findings on performance measures related to passenger trips per mile, operating expenses per trip and per mile, and farebox recovery.

The study assesses how dependent tribal transit operators are on 100% 5311(c) funding. These assessments, along with projections regarding the initiation of new services around the country, can serve as the basis for projecting future program funding needs.

Marginal Cost Pricing and Subsidy of Transit in Small Urban Areas

A SURTC study conducted by Jeremy Mattson and David Ripplinger found that small urban transit agencies experience increasing returns to scale and density. This implies that increasing service levels will result in lower average costs. The report, titled "Marginal Cost Pricing and Subsidy of Transit in Small Urban Areas," has been published and is now available online.

This study analyzes economies of scale and density as a rationale for subsidizing transit agencies in small urban areas. A long-run cost model is estimated using data for 168 transit agencies that directly operate fixed-route bus service in small urban areas. Using vehicle revenue miles as transit output, results show that small urban transit agencies experience economies of scale and density. A full cost model was estimated that included the addition of external costs, such as environmental effects, and benefits. A benefit of increasing service levels is a reduction in rider waiting times. The study attempted to quantify this benefit. Results from the model were used to estimate the marginal social cost of providing service. Setting the fare equal to marginal social cost would maximize social welfare.

The results provide justification for subsidizing transit. The needed subsidy is calculated as the difference between the revenue generated by the optimal fare and that needed to maintain efficient levels of production. The rationale for subsidies is an important issue as many agencies have experienced recent reductions in operational funding.

Included in the report is a survey of transit agencies in small urban areas regarding recent changes in fares, service levels, and funding. The survey found that nearly half of these transit providers have either reduced service or increased fares over a two-year period, primarily because of decreases in operational funding.

For more information, contact Jeremy Mattson at jeremy.w.mattson@ndsu.edu. The publication can be downloaded at the following link: Marginal Cost Pricing and Subsidy of Transit in Small Urban Areas (pdf)

Transit Ridership and the Built Environment

SURTC has published a new report that focused on evaluating the the built environment and its influence on transit ridership. In relation to travel behavior, there has been a focus on improving our understanding of how the built environment influences one's travel mode choice. Planners need evidence showing how land use matters as they advocate for the adoption of different planning principles. This is especially true in small urban areas where planners seldom utilize innovative land-use principles, such as smart growth, within their planning process.

The objective of this research was to determine what variables play an important role in determining the built environment/transit ridership relationship in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Socio-economic and level of service variables were also considered. The publication can be downloaded at the following link:  Transit Ridership and the Built Environment.

SURTC Summer 2011 Newsletter Released

The Summer 2011 issue of the Transit Lane Brief has been published and is available online. This issue features articles on the recently published Rural Transit Fact Book and SURTC Research Digest, new training activities, the development of a national transit curriculum, and recent studies on how the built environment influences transit ridership and how transit subsidies can be justified.

We are also encouraging transit agencies to share your advertising ideas with us and we will post them on our blog. Send your entries to jeremy.w.mattson@ndsu.edu.

The current and previous issues of the SURTC newsletter can be downloaded from the SURTC website.

Rural Transit Fact Book Published

SURTC has published its first annual Rural Transit Fact Book. This publication is intended to serve as a national resource for statistics and information on rural transit in America. Information on transit service availability and cost is necessary to efficiently and effectively meet rural community mobility needs. Financial and operating statistics can be used by agency managers, local decision makers, state directors, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and lawmakers to assist in policy making, planning, managing operations, and evaluating performance.

Despite the widespread benefits, no regularly-published national rural transit information resource has been previously made available. The Rural Transit Fact Book is being initiated to provide information to assist the transit industry in the United States provide efficient and effective service to rural communities. It includes rural demographic and travel behavior data as well as financial, operating, and fleet statistics and performance measures for agencies receiving section 5311 funding. In addition to national level data, statistics are presented by state, FTA region, tribe, and mode, as well as other agency characteristics.

The Rural Transit Fact Book uses agency level data from the Rural National Transit Database (NTD) and rural demographic and travel data from the American Community Survey and the National Household Travel Survey.

The publication can be downloaded from the SURTC website. For more information, contact Jeremy Mattson (jeremy.w.mattson@ndsu.edu).

SURTC Research Digest Published

The first annual SURTC Research Digest has been published and is available online. The SURTC Research Digest provides a number of articles discussing recently completed research projects. The articles are highly condensed, non-technical versions of the full studies, but they provide more depth and detail than what is published in our newsletter. This edition of the SURTC Research Digest includes articles on seven research projects completed in 2010. Topics range from the mobility concerns of the elderly and people with disabilities to the impact of fuel prices on individuals' travel choices. Additional topics include technology adoption by rural transit agencies, perceptions of higher education students in regard to employment in the public transportation industry, the role that public transportation plays in health care, and efforts to coordinate rural transit services. The intent of this publication is to make our research findings accessible to a wider audience. The publication can be downloaded from the SURTC website at the following link: 2011 SURTC Research Digest (pdf).