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The Value of Public and Community Transportation Investments

How do you measure the value of transportation provided? With whom do you share that information?

Here are some resources that discuss and offer strategies for deciding what to measure, and measuring and touting the benefits and value of transportation investments. These were first featured in the September 2014 edition of the Mobility Management News.

  • A 2012 Treasury Department report, A New Economic Analysis of Infrastructure Investment, argued in favor of expanding transportation options as an avenue for economic growth, citing research on location-efficient neighborhoods and emission reductions due to transit ridership, among other evidence. Public health benefits were also touted as a reason to invest in transit.
  • Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results, a 2011 report from the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation [http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/topics/state-policy] examined whether states measure performance and what they measure. The report did not analyze the performance metrics, but described what metrics were being utilized across different modes, primarily looking at auto-centric travel. An interesting section discussed the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, or TIGER grants. One typical TIGER grant awarded $22 million toward a new station in downtown Normal, Illinois, a city along the Chicago-St. Louis Amtrak Line, which will serve Amtrak, city and long-distance buses and taxis. State officials say the project shows a potent multiplier effect in terms of economic development. "Since that project was announced, up to $200 million has been invested in the downtown area by businesses coming into town," says Joe Shacter, director of public and intermodal transportation at the Illinois Department of Transportation. "This included new hotels constructed right next to the intermodal facility."
  • Well-received presentations about measuring the value of transit, both rural bus and urban rail, were presented at an EXPO workshop about transit and economic mobility. Topics covered were the economic impacts of transit in urban and rural settings, who exactly benefits economically from transit and in the types of economic impacts. Information was presented about measuring economic impacts of transit.

Standardized Performance Measures

If success can be replicated, if success can even be determined, then we have to compare apples with apples and better yet, one Macintosh apple with another. TCRP Report 141, A Methodology for Performance Measurement and Peer Comparison in the Public Transportation Industry, from 2010, complements the 2003 TCRP Report 88: A Guidebook for Developing a Transit Performance-Measurement System, which "described how to implement and use performance measurement on an ongoing basis at a transit agency," according to the National Transit Institute (NTI) description. NTI offers a recorded webinar that covers TCRP Report 141.

TCRP Report 141 talked about benchmarking, which is a comparison of peers, in this case transit agencies that are similar (it can also be a comparison of one's organization's performance at different points in time). "Participants agree upon common measures and data definitions-this provides standardization, focuses data collection on areas of interest to the group, and gives participants more confidence in the quality of the data and the results." The report supplied six case studies of peer benchmarking for different types and sizes of public transit. Two of the case studies were (1) costs and revenue comparisons performed for Pennsylvania systems; and (2) funding source ramifications for Knoxville, Tenn.

TCRP Report 88, published in 2003, is a must read. There is a veritable department store of performance categories and measures as well as case studies.

Performance Measurement in Action

CalTrans, the California Department of Transportation, posts its performance indicators and measurements. There in black and white are CalTrans' goals and realities up through 2013. The documents posted report numbers for safety, rail ridership, single occupancy vehicle commuter trips, and much more. The frank statement of goals that arrows on charts provide when compared with the direction of actual results is illuminating and valuable data for transit agencies as well as taxpayers, voters, politicians and those who report to them.

Indirect Measures

What are the reasons to have a transit system or any community transportation? Is the purpose to get commuters to jobs? Is the purpose to get Medicaid patients to medical care? Is transit part of a public health strategy? What do the numbers show in terms of the health of the people transported? Is transit part of a set of initiatives to attract business or affluent workers? What do the numbers show in terms of economic vitality? Is the purpose to enable people to age in place? Those are all valid, but quite distinct, purposes. Figuring out whether transit is effectively making possible the meeting of societal goals will require different measures, whether direct ones or proxies.

For example, in terms of measuring value for senior citizens, AARP and partner organizations issue an annual State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers. The underlying belief is that quality of life, including engagement in the community, requires a long-term care support system where there is effective coordination or integration between health-related services (such as clinician services, medications, home health, and physical therapy) and supportive services (such as personal care, adult day, homemaker, transportation, and other services).

One measurement used is the proxy of hospital readmissions because the measure shows cost savings or higher costs directly. Limited data mean that some things cannot be measured directly. A state-by-state scorecard website looks at several measures, but does not examine anything directly related to transportation.

There is tons more to read about performance measures. I am left with these thoughts: Choose how you define success, examine how success was reached in similar contexts and adapt lessons learned in keeping with the local culture and resources. And, of course, measure those results: What gets measured is what gets resources and attention. But, and this is a big but, do not measure something just because the data is available. (For a nice summary of the data/datum grammar debate, read this Datablog post.) And do not look only at numbers. What are people calling, emailing, tweeting and writing on Facebook about? In the current world, riders and those who choose not to ride, easily find ways to share their thoughts.

The NCMM performance measures topic page provides tools, publications and archived presentations about many aspects of this topic.