Researchers Create Analytical Tools for Improving Services in Transit & Regional Planning Agencies

STRIDE researchers in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida wanted to understand how shifting demographics and new mobility services were impacting public transit ridership, particularly for the transportation disadvantaged, including low-income populations and paratransit users. Through a four-part effort, researchers created analytical tools that transit and regional planning agencies can use to improve their services.

Part 1: In many areas, increasing real-estate values have caused the economic displacement of low-income populations to suburban areas. While this is happening in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina, efforts have also been made to expand and improve the transit system. Dr. Eleni Bardaka’s team at North Carolina State University developed a methodology to assess whether these two simultaneous changes were making it easier or harder for low-income residents to access public transportation. Researchers found that although accessibility to transit increased over time, accessibility to qualified jobs by transit decreased. Researchers shared their findings with GoTriangle, the regional transit agency, in order to help plan for future transit improvements.

Part 2: Ridership on public transportation has been on a steady decline resulting in fewer dollars to invest back into transit improvements. In the past, transit agencies have had limited tools to determine how best to improve service in a cost-effective way. Dr. Kari Watkins’ team at Georgia Tech developed a model to more accurately analyze ridership over time and space. Applying the model in four different metropolitan areas – Portland, OR; Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; and Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN – researchers were able to identify specific corridors that would benefit from service changes. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is currently using the results within their research and service planning units. The model will provide transit agencies with an opportunity to understand the causes of ridership decline and identify strategies to reverse the trend.

Part 3: Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, are adding to the field of transportation options, but little is known about how they may impact public transit and specialized transportation services or if they can meet the needs of the transportation disadvantaged. By interviewing transit and social service agencies in Florida, Drs. Ruth Steiner and Ilir Bejleri’s team at the University of Florida established requirements and challenges associated with partnerships with TNCs. A geospatial model was developed to identify specific service gaps facing the transportation disadvantaged and opportunities for how improved TNC partnerships could potentially fill these gaps in metro Orlando. Researchers discussed preliminary results with the staff of LYNX and modified the model to address based upon the discussion.

Part 4: Transportation to medical services is a critical need for many, particularly those with acute medical needs. Technological advances and shared mobility are reshaping paratransit and dial-a-ride services in the US Ridesourcing options are appearing in electronic medical record workflows of clinicians and they are becoming a part of the choice set for patients through formal partnerships with care providers, insurance companies, and transit agencies. Dr. Noreen McDonald and doctoral student Mary Wolfe at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill conducted a national review of these emerging services and developed a typology of innovations including three strategies in which medical transportation could be provided by TNCs. The typology has been shared with practitioners nationwide. New mobility solutions promise cost saving potential for insurers and more reliable access for patients; however, it is unclear whether these services could be financially viable in low-density, non-urban areas.

These products were developed as a part of STRIDE Project A2: Changing Access to Public Transportation and the potential for Increased Travel.