Total and per-capita public transit ridership in the US have been in decline after a recent peak in the mid-2010s. The causes of this decline are numerous: relatively low gas prices, easily available automobile loans, the advent of ride hailing companies, urban forms hostile to walking and bicycling, and job growth beyond the jurisdiction of transit agencies, among others. Highlighting public transit’s susceptibility to external factors, the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak is pushing transit ridership further downward. Such widespread and rapid ridership changes require creative solutions and direct action--notwithstanding global public health crises, and anticipating an eventual return to normalcy, individual transit agencies can make operational decisions to encourage ridership.
Agencies across the country are realizing that appropriately designed bus networks can support sustained ridership growth. Many agencies are undertaking “bus network redesigns” to direct resources in a manner that increases ridership and improves efficiency. Relying on the fact that bus routes can be shifted with relative ease and frequencies changed as needed, these efforts reallocate service from more peripheral areas to others where land use and demographic fundamentals indicate high ridership potential. Using redesigns and related changes, cities as diverse as Phoenix, Houston, Seattle, and Austin have recently seen ridership increases in the midst of national declines. The common denominator in each of these areas is the understanding that public transit level of service matters even in the face of broader macroeconomic trends that do not favor transit ridership growth.
However, despite its success in expanding ridership, the equity and justice impacts of bus network redesigns are poorly understood and often contentious. In a recent research effort focused on bus network redesigns, TCRP Synthesis 140 addressed a host of general issues related to redesigns but did not engage deeply with equity-related questions. Instead, the report limited its equity investigation to the basic federally required processes, noting that FTA Title VI analyses were the favored method for assessing impacts on people of color and low-income people.
However, FTA Title VI analyses often rely on census data to understand who would be affected by a service change, even though ridership data often show different results. Title VI analyses can also be conducted in many different ways, including via methods that may minimize evidence of negative outcomes for Title VI equity-focused populations. There is little standardization across transit agencies when evaluating the impacts of their network redesigns.
This TCRP synthesis will document the current practice of how transit providers are defining, assessing, and addressing the equity impacts of bus network redesigns, including and beyond the FTA Title VI regulatory requirements.
Information gathered from transit providers that have redesigned their bus network will include (not an inclusive list):
- What prompted the redesign? Was equity an issue?
- Why was equity important to the transit provider?
- What policies and/or guidance governs equity for the transit provider?
- How was equity defined by the transit provider?
- How was access to service and quality of service defined?
- What population groups and travel needs were considered?
· How did the transit provider conduct the Title VI service equity analysis?
œ Did the transit provider conduct equity analyses that went beyond the minimum FTA requirements for Title VI? How? ( e.g. improving access to opportunities to equity-focused communities, improving engagement by equity-focused communities in the planning process)
- How was equity incorporated in the bus network redesign planning process?
- How did equity influence the public engagement process? How was that influence measured?
- Was equity incorporated iteratively into the planning process or was it measured at the end of the redesign?
- What data was used to measure equity impacts of the bus network redesign? How was the data analyzed?
o How does the transit provider incorporate the findings of the analysis into the implementation?
· How did transit providers measure the results of their recommended bus network redesign changes?
· How was equity considered in other non-service aspects of the bus network redesign (e.g, fares, transfer policies, stop amenities,)?
Information will be gathered by a literature review (e.g. agency reports, peer reviewed journal articles, web articles) and a survey on a broad range of North American transit agencies (diverse in terms of geography, socioeconomics, size, and governance). The report should include a minimum of 5 case examples that will gather information on the state-of-the-practice, emphasizing lessons learned, challenges, and gaps. The needs for future research should also be discussed.
TCRP Report 214: Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes, Volume 1: Guide
TCRP Synthesis 140: Comprehensive Bus Network Redesigns. 2019.
Jinhyung Lee, Harvey J. Miller. “Measuring the impacts of new public transit services on space-time accessibility: An analysis of transit system redesign and new bus rapid transit in Columbus, Ohio, USA.” Applied Geography 93, 2018, pp. 47-63.
TCRP Draft Final Report for H-56: Redesigning Public Transportation Networks for a New Mobility Future