The National Academies

TCRP J-08B [Completed]

New Paradigms for Local Public Transportation Organizations

  Project Data
Funds: $723,283
Research Agency: Cambridge Systematics
Principal Investigator: Robert Stanley, Matthew Coogan
Effective Date: 5/11/1998
Completion Date: 7/30/2003

Mobility in the United States is in crisis! Urbanized areas, large and small, are beset by traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban sprawl. These problems jeopardize the nation's environmental well being and economic potential. The crisis seriously threatens the nation's ability to succeed in the global competition of the 21st century.

Public transportation organizations, a major contributor to our mobility, face a variety of challenges to their capacity to deliver public transportation programs and services. These challenges include:
  • loss of market share as the private automobile has continued to capture the bulk of personal motorized travel. A spiral of expanding suburbanization of housing and employment, increasing car ownership, and declining transit service has eroded the market for public transportation in the United States and elsewhere. Overdependence on the automobile is caused, in part, by the inability of the nation's public transportation institutions to meet the changing trip demand.
  • rapid growth in suburb-to-suburb travel. Such travel may form a potential future market for public transportation, but transit has had difficulty even establishing a market share here. Public transportation must compete with the convenience of the car in this significant and growing market.
  • public land-use policies that encourage growth in suburban and exurban areas. These policies have only infrequently been changed to favor development patterns amenable to public transportation.
  • overlapping, sometimes conflicting jurisdictions relating to transit, other transportation, and related programs (e.g., land use, congestion management, and air quality management). This complex environment contributes to the inability of institutions to respond quickly and responsibly to intermodal transportation issues.
  • erosion of essential public financial support. Public transportation must compete with other government services for funding. Austere budget pressures limit the industry's ability to sustain reasonable levels of service, let alone try sweeping new initiatives. Such fiscal austerity will be part of transit's future for some time to come. Expanded federal, state, and local legislative requirements and regulations exacerbate budget pressures on normal operations.

In addition to these challenges, the social culture in which transit operates is changing. Communities are becoming more technologically adept. It is becoming a world in which communications will take place over the Internet; work and social schedules will be arranged by telecommunications; and information on activities, gained in real time, will influence choice and location of activities. The question is not only, "are tickets available to the movies," but also, "is there a parking space, or seat on the bus available?" Communities have many more older people with declining physical capabilities. More communities are multilingual. There are more two-income households with complicated family schedules and mobility needs. These and other changes in our culture and demographics are redefining public transportation customers and society at large.

In attempting to meet the growing demand and diversity of personal travel needs, private and not-for-profit transportation services have evolved. These services often are not coordinated with the local public transit agency services; they are often inefficient and heavily subsidized by the public. Many local public transit agencies, with risk-averse organizational structures, do not link with these parallel mobility providers.

Mobility underpins the quality of life. Communities need a wide range of options to the drive-alone automobile to serve their expanding needs. Future public transportation organizations may oversee a portfolio of services in many jurisdictions, perhaps with competitive service providers. Public transportation organizations need to consider bold, new ideas and innovations that will respond to the evolving needs of the traveling public.

The objective of this research project is to develop and examine alternatives for reinventing local public transportation organizations. The ability of these organizations to redefine their missions and become more valuable to their communities and nation, is dependent on fundamental changes in how the organizations view themselves and are viewed by the public. Reinventing local public transportation organizations in the United States, at all levels -- political, policy, program, and service -- is essential for overcoming the many difficult challenges.

Status: Phases I and II of the project have been completed and published as TCRP Reports 53 and 58. TCRP Report 53, "Forces and Factors That Require Consideration of New Paradigms," provides a first step in examining how new paradigms might be introduced into local public transportation. It summarizes the key forces and factors that appear to necessitate a paradigm shift--a reinvention of the organizations that now have or share responsibility for local public transportation services. TCRP Report 58, "Opening the Door to Fundamental Change," presents key ideas and principles that point the way to fundamental change. Examples are presented to illustrate how fundamental change has been introduced and sustained in other industries and businesses.

Phase III of the project is currently underway. Phase III will provide innovative technical assistance, guidance, and support to selected local public transportation organizations to pursue organizational change, and will develop information targeted at public transportation organizations, their board members, and stakeholders to facilitate organizational change. The researchers have developed a web page. A brochure on New Paradigms in Public Transportation has been produced for distribution.

TCRP Reports 53 and 58 and TCRP Research Results Digest 55 are also available in portable document format (PDF). Click on the links below to access these reports (A free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader is available at https://www.adobe.com.).

TCRP Report 53

TCRP Report 58

TCRP Research Results Digest 55

Product Availability: The final report for this project has been published as TCRP Report 97.

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