Restructuring of intercity bus services has resulted in a shift of intercity bus services away from serving rural communities to services that primarily link major cities and urbanized areas. Rural areas formerly served by these services are now lacking connections to the national intercity bus network.
FTA Section 5311(f) funding is available to provide planning, capital, and operating assistance for intercity bus services serving rural areas. However, many states and rural (regional and local) operators are unsure about the potential demand for rural intercity bus service and how that demand might vary. Among the variables believed to affect demand are the type of provider (e.g., rural operator or private intercity carrier); schedule (e.g., frequency, time of day, trip duration); the physical and service characteristics of the connection; fare levels; the availability of interline tickets; and inclusion of the service in national intercity bus schedule guides and ticketing systems. The level of demand varies with population, and typically with frequency and service design, and is a major consideration in service design issues.
Existing modeling systems are not effective or accurate in predicting the demand for this type of service and do not take into account essential access issues which may factor into the decision-making process. There is no accepted demand model, rule of thumb, or similar tool that is based on recent experiences to assist in determining the likely intercity-related ridership and the impact of different interline relationships and service characteristics on the potential demand. Most basically, estimates of intercity trip demand serving rural communities are needed to help in the design of projects that will link rural areas with the national intercity bus network.
Research is needed to develop tools for forecasting rural intercity bus ridership for use by both service providers and state transportation program managers. The tools should assist potential providers in answering questions such as: What is the potential ridership for different service types? Given a certain level of population, should a service be offered three times per week, daily on weekdays, or 365 days/year? What is the ridership impact of the type of service connection? The tools should assist program managers in answering questions such as: How do the proposed services affect prioritization of resources? Does demand justify the requested subsidies? How do the proposed services fit into the overall long-range state or regional transportation plans?
The objective of this project is to produce a sketch planning guide and supporting tools that can be used by both service providers and state transportation program managers to forecast demand for rural intercity bus services.