The National Academies

NCHRP 08-133 [Active]

Implementing the National Intercity Bus Atlas

  Project Data
Funds: $599,994
Staff Responsibility: Stephan A. Parker
Research Agency: Resource Systems Group Inc.
Principal Investigator: Greg Spitz
Effective Date: 2/5/2021
Completion Date: 11/5/2023

Following deregulation of the intercity bus industry in 1982 and significant restructuring of the industry in the mid-2000s, much of the population of the United States has lost access to the intercity bus network. A paucity of reliable information on existing services has emerged as a major obstacle as public agencies and private service providers look for opportunities to reestablish lost services and to create new services.
While more than $100 million in federal funding flows through state departments of transportation (DOTs) to support intercity bus operations, there is not a clear picture of where such subsidies are flowing or of how they relate to the much larger intercity bus network. It is difficult for public, for-profit, and non-profit actors to make informed decisions in the absence of such important data and information.
Prior to deregulation, information had been available through a publicly available, industry-wide schedule book, the National Motorcoach Guide, published by Russell’s (commonly known as Russell’s Guide or just Russell’s), disappeared. Attempts to provide information in this void have included the independent and unbiased map available from the American Intercity Bus Riders Association’s (AIBRA) website (https://www.kfhgroup.com/aibra/pdf/usmap.pdf). A presentation at the 2017 Rural and Intercity Bus Conference by Michael Buiting, the individual who voluntarily created and maintained the AIBRA map, led to the drafting of a research problem statement by members of the TRB Committee on Rural Public and Intercity Bus; that problem statement was included in the NCHRP Rural Transportation Issues Research Roadmap and submitted for funding consideration by the AASHTO Special Committee on Research and Innovation. The data entry burden is more than an individual volunteer can maintain.
In 2019 the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) began an Intercity Bus Atlas (ICBA) initiative, which “collects, compiles, publishes and archives scheduled intercity bus service information. The data reveal local, interregional, and international transportation patterns, and inform the nation about the location and connectivity of its transportation facilities and services.” In order for the ICBA to fulfill its potential in informing business, policy, and planning decisions, research is needed to (1) engage a significant portion of the intercity bus industry in providing route, stop, and schedule data, and (2) develop guidance for (a) ongoing maintenance and development of the ICBA as a national resource; (b) user guides to inform those responsible for state, local, tribal, and territorial intercity bus policy and plans; and (c) user guides for those in the private for-profit and non-profit sectors responsible for investment decisions regarding intercity bus operations. This work has new urgency as public travel patterns change under the COVID-19 pandemic.
The objective of this project is to complete the development and implementation of the Intercity Bus Atlas (ICBA) as an ongoing, comprehensive and publicly available inventory of intercity bus services. While the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has developed the structure and platform to house and maintain the ICBA, research is needed to populate the ICBA with General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data. The research team will need to work closely with the BTS and the Federal Geographic Data Committee Intercity Bus Working Group to accomplish this project. 
Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.
Phase I
Task 1.  Prepare for and participate in a kick-off teleconference meeting with the panel to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date.
Task 2. Compile a list of intercity bus carriers and develop and implement a dashboard for tracking submission of memoranda of understanding (MOU) and updating of their GTFS feeds in the ICBA. A useful starting point is AIBRA's website. Another useful resource is state DOTs. The dashboard should include:
  • Data Compilation – Compiling existing intercity bus data already available in GTFS format and report on known missing data. 
  • Data Development – Using the known universe of intercity bus service providers, build data for those providers that have not yet compiled service data in the GTFS standard. This task will necessitate effort in tasks below, requiring thoughtful engagement with providers.
Task 3. Develop and submit a tiered industry engagement plan to (1) encourage intercity bus service providers to sign the BTS National Intercity Bus Atlas Memorandum of Understanding available at https://www.bts.gov/intercity-busing/registration), including the required URL for GTFS data, and (2) encourage intercity bus service providers to post to the internet and update stop, route, and schedule data in the designated format. The engagement plan should include group (e.g., trade association) and individual entity outreach to (a) interlining intercity bus carriers; (b) non-interlining scheduled intercity bus carriers, and (c) others, including airport shuttles, regional services, and demand-responsive services.
Task 4. Deploy the approved industry engagement plan.
Task 5. Develop a recommended technical assistance plan to assist entities that have signed MOUs to develop, post to the internet, and update GTFS-compliant files. Develop a step by step procedure to help/enable intercity bus providers to post to the internet information, and provide guidance on data quality, reliability, security, availability, and assurance.
Task 6. Develop data paths for those that are not willing or able to follow the BTS protocol for the intercity bus census. Paths will include those that populate the map with GTFS data and sign the MOU; those that populate the map with GTFS data but do not sign the MOU; and those that are passive (i.e., those that do not themselves populate the map with GTFS and do not sign the MOU). For the latter category, the research team may perform data entry, in which case they must seek carrier permission for use; in this case, the research team may include data and data analyses in research products even without intercity bus service provider permission to inform project analyses and Phase II and Phase III decisions.
Task 7. Submit Interim Report 1. Summarize the results of Tasks 1 to 6 and recommend approach(es) to be used in subsequent tasks. Findings from Interim Report 1 shall be presented at an in-person or virtual meeting with the NCHRP project panel. NCHRP approval of Interim Report 1 is required before work on Phase II or Phase III may begin.  
Phase II
Task 8. Carry out the approved technical assistance plan.
Task 9. Develop a user guide for private sector scheduled, interlined intercity bus services; ticketing services; schedulers; and business development planners.
Task 10. Develop user guide(s) for state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) transit planners that includes (1) case studies that show how such data is currently being used and (2) use cases illustrating how an 85% populated ICBA could inform plans and policies. The guide should explain how to select, access, and convert downloadable GTFS files for conversion to GIS system use by SLTT transit planners; how to deal with data gaps between known intercity bus service providers and providers shown in the ICBA; how to accommodate commuter bus service; how to incorporate cross-border route data, including international routes; how to incorporate safety data such as the FMCSA carrier performance ratings; and provide guidance on data quality, reliability, security, availability, and assurance.
Task 11. Submit Interim Report 2. Summarize the results of Tasks 8 to 10 and recommend approach(es) to be used in subsequent tasks. Findings from Interim Report 2 shall be presented at an in-person or virtual meeting. NCHRP approval of Interim Report 2 is required before work on Phase III may begin.  
Phase III
Task 12 Identify (1) alternative methods for maintaining the ICBA map and associated timetables; while BTS has agreed to host the site, alternatives can be developed to include potential hosts such as a public agency, industry group, or open source community; (2) resource needs (including job description(s)) to provide consistent, stable support for maintaining engagement and data updates to the ICBA at the national, state, and intercity bus provider level; (3) ongoing data maintenance requirements and recommendations for the frequency of updates to support and sustain accurate information and maturation of the ICBA application to perform analyses; (4) options to extend the GTFS specification to better accommodate the intercity bus industry and draft minimal viable data sets (a smaller set of data) for potential incorporation into the GTFS standard; (5) priorities for additional desired data to inform state DOT plans and policies, or a process for DOTs to develop such priorities, that could be included in future iterations of the GTFS; (6) intercity bus business decision data needs; discuss the potential for tiered access (e.g., are there some data that should be available to public entities and not to private entities?); and (7) potential data fields to include in a GTFS extension, such as (a) connection rules; (b) routes receiving operating subsidies from public entities; (c) stop amenities; (d) accessibility; and (e) elevations of fixed facilities.
Task 13Submit a final report that contains (1) documentation of the entire project, incorporating all specified deliverable products of the research; (2) an executive summary that outlines the research results; and (3) recommendations of needs and priorities for additional related research.

Research in progress.


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