The National Academies

NCHRP 08-147 [RFP]

Improving Public Transportation in Rural Areas and Tribal Communities

Posted Date: 1/14/2021

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
This project includes $500,000 in funding from NCHRP and $100,000 in funding from TCRP project B-49
Contract Time: 30 months
(includes 1 month for NCHRP review and approval of the interim report and 3 months for NCHRP review and for contractor revision of the final report)
Authorization to Begin Work: 6/1/2021 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Dianne S. Schwager
   Phone: 202-334-2969
   Email: DSchwager@nas.edu
RFP Close Date: 3/16/2021
Fiscal Year: 2021

Note: The title for this project has been updated.



Rural areas and tribal communities in the United States vary widely (e.g., size, population density, demographics, current mobility options, economic conditions, proximity to small, medium, and large urban areas, proximity to health facilities, geography, road infrastructure, internet connectivity, weather conditions, and other distinguishing characteristics).


About one in five people in the United States live in rural areas where residents tend to be older, poorer, and more likely to have a disability than people living elsewhere. (Rural Transit Fact Book 2020)

While the large majority of trips in rural areas and tribal communities are in personal vehicles, public transportation is crucial for many to access work and job training, medical and dental appointments, grocery stores and pharmacies, places of worship, and other locations. Over 80% of counties in the United States have rural or tribal public transportation services. In FY2019 the National Transit Database (NTD) reported that more than 1,250 agencies provide transit service in rural and tribal communities. Most of these agencies provide demand-response services, about one-third provide fixed-route services, and a small percentage provide both fixed-route and demand-response services.  Some agencies provide route deviation, demand-responsive taxis, service by transportation network companies, commuter bus service, ferry service, vanpools, and other services. In FY2019, the NTD also reported 67.7 million fixed-route trips, 45.6 million demand-response trips, and 12.2 million trips on other modes, for a total of 126 million annual rural and tribal public transit trips.  (Special Note C.)


Rural and tribal transit agencies located in different states and territories have different programs and practices overseeing, funding, and managing their services. Each of these factors, alone and in combination, effect decision-making and outcomes for the transit services.  Insufficient financial and staffing resources make it challenging for transit in rural areas and tribal communities to identify and fully meet the travel and accessibility needs of the communities served, to communicate effectively with diverse patrons, to comply with national requirements, to improve equity, and to evaluate and adopt new technologies.  


Research is needed to help agencies that provide public transportation in disparate rural areas and tribal communities in the United States to improve mobility and accessibility, enhance performance, and adopt appropriate innovations.  The research deliverables must be practical, user-friendly resources that support and guide practitioners.




The objective of this research is to produce a guidebook on how to initiate new and enhance existing rural and tribal public transportation services that improve mobility and accessibility. The guidebook should promote practices that are responsive to customers and aid transit providers in improving efficiency and effectiveness.  The guidebook should also help transit providers better leverage and coordinate resources, comply with federal requirements, and adopt appropriate emerging technologies.


The guidebook must address the differences among rural areas and tribal communities with regard to their distinguishing characteristics (e.g.,  size, population density, demographics, current mobility options, economic conditions, proximity to small, medium, and large urban areas, proximity to health facilities, geography, road infrastructure, internet connectivity, funding, and weather conditions) and how these characteristics effect public transportation services.  The research should include a survey to identify best practices and innovation for improving mobility and accessibility in disparate rural and tribal settings.  The survey should produce a synthesis that will frame the balance of the research. (See Special Note D.) The research should then explore and present best practices and innovations in detail.


The final deliverable should be a practical and actionable guidebook that will serve the diverse rural and tribal agencies in the United States that provide public transportation, as well as the state departments of transportation (DOTs) that oversee and administer these services.  The final deliverable should address:

  • Service strategies.  Include traditional fixed-route and newer route-deviated services, various types of on-demand transit, and other mobility options, identifying the pros and cons of different service strategies for rural and tribal settings.
  • Role of technology. Recognizing funding and staffing constraints, identify areas where technology (1) is useful to rural and tribal public transportation services, and (2) helps improve mobility, service quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. Include steps that agencies can take to evaluate new technologies.
  • Funding.  Provide a primer on federal funding and best practices and innovations in state, local, and private funding to support public transportation in rural areas and tribal communities.
  • Improvements to efficiency and effectiveness.  Present best practices and innovations for (1) constraining costs and maximizing the use of available resources and (2) increasing total ridership, as well as passengers served per mile and per hour.
  • Communication with current and prospective passengers.  Recommend approaches and present examples for effective communication, using appropriate media and languages, to facilitate use of public transportation in rural areas and tribal communities.
  • Equity.  Translate equity goals for mobility associated with the income, ethnicity, disability, and age of patrons into equity outcomes for rural areas and tribal communities.
  • Compliance with federal requirements.  Assist public transportation providers in rural areas and tribal communities to comply with federal requirements that apply both independently and as a condition of eligibility for federal funding sources.  
  • Role of state DOTs.  Present strategies and scenarios for improving public transportation in rural areas and tribal communities that state DOTs may foster.
  • Methods for measuring success and outcomes.  Include tools that support evaluation and decision-making to monitor and improve rural and tribal public transportation services overtime.



Proposers are asked to develop and present a detailed research plan for accomplishing the project objective.  The work proposed must be divided into tasks and proposers must describe the work proposed in each task.  Proposers are expected to present a research plan that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals shall: (1) present the proposer’s current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the topic and issues, and the soundness of their approach for meeting the research objective; (2) identify data and data sources that may be used to undertake this research, and (3) propose a format(s) of the final research product(s). 


The research plan shall describe appropriate deliverables that include, but are not limited to the following (which also represent key project milestones):

  • An Amplified Research Plan that responds to comments provided by the project panel at the contractor selection meeting.
  • Synthesis of survey results on best practices and innovation for improving mobility and accessibility in disparate rural and tribal settings that will frame the balance of the research.  (See Special Note D.)
  • An interim report and meeting with the NCHRP project panel. The interim deliverable should address (1) analyses and results of completed tasks, (2) the remaining research tasks, (3) an outline of the final research product(s), and (4) strategies for dissemination and implementation of the final research deliverables. The panel meeting will take place after the NCHRP and TCRP review  the interim report. The interim report and panel meeting should occur after the expenditure of no more than 40 percent of the project budget. The meeting is expected to be held at the TRB offices in Washington, D.C. NCHRP and TCRP will provide the meeting venue and be responsible for project panel travel costs.
  • Final deliverable(s) should include a practical and actionable guidebook with a compelling executive summary, and best practices and recommendations for key stakeholders interested in initiating new and enhanced rural and tribal public transportation services that improve mobility and accessibility.
  • A PowerPoint presentation suitable for a webinar. 
  • A technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products.” (See Special Note F.)
  • Other deliverables, as appropriate.

Note: The research plan may include additional deliverables as well as additional panel meetings via teleconferences. 


Note: The research plan shall include a schedule for completion of the research that includes 1 month for panel review of the interim report, and 3 months for panel review and for contractor revision of the final research product(s). 




A. The Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals for the Transportation Research Board’s Cooperative Research Programs were modified in November 2020 to include maximum file size and page limits for all CRP proposals. Proposals must be submitted as a single PDF file with a maximum file size of 10 MB. The PDF must be formatted for standard 8 ½” X 11” paper, and the entire proposal must not exceed 60 pages (according to the page count displayed in the PDF). Proposals that do not meet these requirements will be rejected. For other requirements, refer to Chapter V of the instructions.


B. Proposals should demonstrate knowledge of literature and both completed and on-going research germane to this research project.


C.  Information in this Request for Proposal on the number of rural and tribal transit agencies in the United States and their ridership includes agencies that receive federal funding under 49 USC 5311 and report annually to the National Transit Database (NTD). (These funds provide formula grants for rural areas for capital, planning, and operating assistance to states to support public transportation in rural areas with populations of less than 50,000.)  The rural NTD does not include (1) all public transit agencies receiving 5311 funding (i.e., it does not include all agencies that operate in rural, urban, and suburban areas)  and (2) rural and tribal transit agencies that receive other funding.  The final deliverable from this research should benefit transit agencies that receive Section 5311 funding, regardless of whether that operate in entirely in rural areas or operate in rural and other types of areas, as well as rural and tribal public transit that receive other funding.


D. The survey of rural and tribal public transportation conducted in this project should not replicate the NTD, American Housing Survey, the American Community Survey, or the National Household Travel Survey. Nor should it produce a report that replicates the Rural Transit Fact Book.  Rather the survey should identify and document best practices and innovation for improving public transportation in disparate rural and tribal settings in the United States. The budget for the survey and synthesis of survey results should not exceed $45,000 of the project budget.


E. Proposals should include a task-by-task breakdown of labor hours for each staff member as shown in Figure 4 in the brochure, "Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals" (http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/crp/docs/ProposalPrep.pdf). Proposals also should include a breakdown of all costs (e.g., wages, indirect costs, travel, materials, and total) for each task using Figures 5 and 6 in the brochure. Please note that TRB Cooperative Research Program subawards (selected proposers are considered subawards to the National Academy of Sciences, the parent organization of TRB) must comply with 2 CFR 200 – Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. These requirements include a provision that proposers without a "federally" Negotiated Indirect Costs Rate Agreement (NICRA) shall be subject to a maximum allowable indirect rate of 10% of Modified Total Direct Costs. Modified Total Direct Costs include all salaries and wages, applicable fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to the first $25,000 of each lower-tier subaward and subcontract. Modified Total Direct Costs exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, rental costs, tuition remission, scholarships and fellowships, participant support costs and the portion of each lower-tier subaward and subcontract in excess of $25,000.


F. The NCHRP is a practical, applied research program that produces implementable products addressing problems faced by transportation practitioners and managers. The benefits of NCHRP research are realized only when the results are implemented in state DOTs and other agencies. Implementation of the research product must be considered throughout the process, from problem statement development to research contract and beyond completion of the research. Item 4(c), "Anticipated Research Results," must include the following: (a) the "product" expected from the research, (b) the audience or "market" for this product, (c) a realistic assessment of impediments to successful implementation, and (d) the institutions and individuals who might take leadership in deploying the research product. The project panel will develop and maintain an implementation plan throughout the life of the project. The research team will be expected to provide input to an implementation team consisting of panel members, AASHTO committee members, the NCHRP Implementation Coordinator, and others in order to meet the goals of NCHRP Active Implementation: Moving Research into Practice, available at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP_ActiveImplementation.pdf.


G. Proposals are evaluated by the NCHRP staff and project panels consisting of individuals collectively very knowledgeable in the problem area. Selection of an agency is made by the project panel considering the following factors: (1) the proposer's demonstrated understanding of the problem; (2) the merit of the proposed research approach and experiment design; (3) the experience, qualifications, and objectivity of the research team in the same or closely related problem area; (4) the plan for ensuring application of results; (5) how the proposer approaches inclusion and diversity in the composition of their team and research approach, including participation by certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises; and, if relevant, (6) the adequacy of the facilities.


Note: The proposer's approach to inclusion and diversity as well as participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises should be incorporated in Item 11 of the proposal.


H. Copyrights - All data, written materials, computer software, graphic and photographic images, and other information prepared under the contract and the copyrights therein shall be owned by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The contractor and subcontractors will be able to publish this material for non-commercial purposes, for internal use, or to further academic research or studies with permission from TRB Cooperative Research Programs. The contractor and subcontractors will not be allowed to sell the project material without prior approval by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. By signing a contract with the National Academy of Sciences, contractors accept legal responsibility for any copyright infringement that may exist in work done for TRB. Contractors are therefore responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for use of copyrighted material in TRB's Cooperative Research Programs publications. For guidance on TRB's policies on using copyrighted material please consult Section 5.4, "Use of Copyrighted Material," in the Procedural Manual for Contractors.


Proposals should be uploaded via this link: https://www.dropbox.com/request/RyBb7cjFUVxVyogRMOYG  
Proposals are due not later than 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on 3/16/2021.

This is a firm deadline, and extensions are not granted. In order to be considered for award, the agency's proposal accompanied by the executed, unmodified Liability Statement must be in our offices not later than the deadline shown, or the proposal will be rejected.

Liability Statement

The signature of an authorized representative of the proposing agency is required on the unaltered statement in order for TRB to accept the agency's proposal for consideration. Proposals submitted without this executed and unaltered statement by the proposal deadline will be summarily rejected. An executed, unaltered statement indicates the agency's intent and ability to execute a contract that includes the provisions in the statement.

Here is a fillable PDF version of the Liability Statement. A free copy of the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader is available at https://www.adobe.com.

General Notes

1. According to the provisions of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 21, which relates to nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs, all parties are hereby notified that the contract entered into pursuant to this announcement will be awarded without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.

2. The essential features required in a proposal for research are detailed in the current brochure entitled "Information and Instructions for Preparing Proposals". Proposals must be prepared according to this document, and attention is directed specifically to Section V for mandatory requirements. Proposals that do not conform with these requirements will be rejected.

3. The total funds available are made known in the project statement, and line items of the budget are examined to determine the reasonableness of the allocation of funds to the various tasks. If the proposed total cost exceeds the funds available, the proposal is rejected.

4. All proposals become the property of the Transportation Research Board. Final disposition will be made according to the policies thereof, including the right to reject all proposals.

5. Potential proposers should understand that follow-on activities for this project may be carried out through either a contract amendment modifying the scope of work with additional time and funds, or through a new contract (via sole source, full, or restrictive competition).

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