The National Academies

TCRP H-42 [Completed]

Making Effective Fixed-Guideway Transit Investments: Indicators of Success

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Research Agency: University of California, Berkeley
Principal Investigator: Dan Chatman
Effective Date: 11/19/2010
Completion Date: 7/1/2014


Thirty years ago a landmark study entitled Urban Rail in America: An Exploration of Criteria for Fixed-Guideway Transit (authored by Boris Pushkarev, with assistance from Jeffrey Zupan and Robert Cumella, published by Indiana University Press, 1982) explored conditions that support different types of fixed-guideway investments and helped to define the location of urban corridors where such travel volumes might be found. This study also offered an initial assessment of the nation-wide potential for fixed-guideway facilities including a focus on local planning for promising locations. Based on operating experience with existing systems at the time, functions were developed relating variables such as population density, development density, service frequency, and speed-to-travel volumes. Applying those functions, the study formulated minimum travel volume criteria or thresholds for alternate fixed-guideway systems. Since the release of Urban Rail in America, numerous research efforts have continued to assess conditions for successful performance of alternate forms of fixed-guideway transit investments. In addition, new systems have been constructed that were not addressed in the original study; and new transit modes, issues, and analytical tools have emerged since 1982. As a result, a fresh look at the concepts and approaches originally addressed in Urban Rail in America and subsequent research would contribute substantially to an informed planning process. This review and re-evaluation would provide a framework for identifying effective indicators and thresholds that can be used to support local, regional, and federal decisionmaking applied to consideration of fixed-guideway transit investment projects.    


The objectives of this research are to (1) identify conditions and characteristics necessary to support alternate fixed-guideway transit system investments and (2) provide guidance on evaluating proposed investments based on these conditions and characteristics. This research will provide an analytical framework and a set of tools in the form of a handbook for decisionmakers at all levels to determine when conditions are present for successful investment in various kinds of fixed-guideway systems. In addition, a key component of this research will be to determine how the land use and transportation linkages originally presented in Urban Rail in America have evolved over time.  



Review existing literature and other sources to identify what parameters are used as indicators of potential success of fixed-guideway transit system investments. The purpose of this task is to extract from past experience what variables have emerged as accurate measures of successful implementation of alternate fixed-guideway transit systems and how these measures have been applied. The review should revisit the hypotheses and relationships identified in Urban Rail in America and related literature to assess whether the framework identified remains valid with regard to modes both considered and not considered in earlier research, changes in population characteristics, travel patterns, changes in technology/telecommunication, or other factors. The review should also demonstrate how this process has evolved over time since the publication of Urban Rail in America, and how approaches to analyzing the land use/transit linkage have changed.(2). To supplement the Task 1 literature review, gather additional information from transit service providers, MPOs, and other appropriate public and private sources on what indicators have been or could be used to determine potential fixed-guideway transit success by type of transit project, and what tools and techniques have been or could be used to derive those indicators. Prior to actually collecting the required information, develop an information collection plan for review and approval by the TCRP project panel. The information desired should address how these indicators have been used in the planning, design, and development process; what data is necessary to support the use of these indicators; what patterns have emerged in terms of measurements that can be recognized as effective indicators of changing conditions supporting alternate systems; and what innovative tools and techniques, including GIS applications and other spatial analysis techniques, have been applied to measure these parameters. Agencies contacted for this information should also be asked about their thinking on the potential usefulness of a set of analytical tools or toolkit that will ultimately be one of the products of this research effort.  (3). Based on the information collected in Tasks 1 and 2, identify a set of critical indicators, and the methods used to measure those indicators, in order to determine what criteria are available and most useful to forecast project success for alternate fixed-guideway transit system investments. Collect available data to support application of the identified indicators. Evaluate and compare a selected set of recent transit investment projects using both traditional and proposed indicators. Suggest other measures or other analytical techniques that can be used in lieu of indicators for which sufficient data does not exist. (4). Building on the analysis of the information gathered from all sources, develop a typology of fixed-guideway transit projects in a variety of environments and applications in relation to the indicators identified in Task 3. Using that typology, identify thresholds that emerge from the application of these indicators in the evaluation of alternate fixed-guideway transit projects. Describe potential opportunities and limitations for their application. Prepare illustrative displays describing the relationship between alternate fixed-guideway transit systems, ridership, land use, and other features that can be used as input to construction of analytical tools that apply the indicators derived in previous tasks.  (5). Prepare an interim report that (1) summarizes the results of Tasks 1 through 4 and (2) based on the typography developed in Task 4, recommends an evaluation framework necessary for measuring and applying these indicators. In addition, propose a procedure for testing the application of this evaluation framework, using the identified thresholds, in a set of case studies to be carried out in Phase II. The set of case studies proposed should include a range of transit projects to illustrate the applicability of the evaluation framework to various types of projects and transportation networks in different demographic and geographic environments. The interim report should also include an updated Phase II work plan.


. Refine and detail the evaluation framework derived in Task 5, including definitions of specific indicators, description of analytical methods, and thresholds to be applied for the typology of transit capital investment projects derived in Task 4.   Identify guidelines for application of the proposed evaluation framework and prepare an outline of a handbook describing how these guidelines can be used by practitioners. These guidelines will form the basis for the handbook.  (7).  From the list proposed in Task 5 and agreed to as part of the interim report review, propose a minimum of five case studies, representative of the key examples of fixed-guideway transit illustrated in the typography developed in Task 4. The purpose of these case studies is twofold: (1) to validate the evaluation framework, analytical methods, and applicable thresholds and (2) to provide illustrative, detailed examples to be incorporated in the handbook.  (8). Carry out the approved case studies and summarize the findings.  Apply the evaluation framework and analytical methods detailed in Task 5 to the selected case studies and report on the outcome. (9). Prepare the handbook for use by practitioners on how to apply the evaluation framework. This handbook should include definitions of applicable thresholds, descriptions of methods for gathering information required for that application, tools and techniques for implementing the process and informing decisionmaking, and other necessary and relevant components. In addition, prepare a final report presenting the findings of the research, including documentation of the case studies testing the evaluation framework, indicators, and analytical methods.  The Final Report will also include an Executive Summary along with graphical representations of the research approach and key findings suitable for use by a wide variety of audiences.

: This research has been completed and released as TCRP Report 167.  .

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