Public Transit Partnerships:

Additional Information Needed to Clarify Data Reporting and Share Best Practices

GAO-18-539: Published: Jul 30, 2018. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2018.

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Mark Goldstein
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goldsteinm@gao.gov

 

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Have you tried bike- or car-sharing? Local transit agencies are partnering with private companies offering these and other new options to help riders connect to and use mass transit systems.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) wants to support transit agencies undertaking such efforts. But transit agencies are seeking more information from FTA to help them form successful partnerships, including details on what data FTA needs—such as on the number of rides shared—to grant money to these agencies.

We recommend that FTA share more information with transit agencies, including about how to report this data to FTA.

Docking station for bike-sharing program

Photo of two bikes docked at a bikeshare station.

Photo of two bikes docked at a bikeshare station.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Mark Goldstein
(202) 512-2834
goldsteinm@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Some local transit agencies are pursuing partnerships with private mobility companies—including car-share and "ridesourcing" companies such as Lyft and Uber, which provide access to a shared vehicle “on demand”—with the aim of offering public transit riders more efficient and convenient service options. Most of the transit partnership projects that GAO selected (14 of 22) involved private partners providing on-demand transportation for the “first- and last-mile” connections to or from public transit stations (see figure). Local transit agencies use first- and last-mile connections to increase their public transit ridership. Other services provided through selected projects included filling transit service gaps in under-served areas. Most selected projects have not yet been evaluated to determine whether they achieved intended outcomes.

Concept of First- and Last-Mile Connections to Access Public Transportation

Concept of First- and Last-Mile Connections to Access Public Transportation

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) efforts, especially the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) initiation of the Mobility on Demand Sandbox program, have facilitated partnerships, but confusion about how to meet some requirements and how to report data pose challenges to implementing projects. In October 2016, FTA announced the selection of 11 projects to receive grants and has since provided assistance to the grantees. FTA also issued clarifications about how certain federal requirements—such as those related to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)—apply to transit partnerships. However, most selected local transit agencies (14 of 16) said that additional information beyond what FTA has already disseminated, including how agencies have successfully structured partnerships and met federal requirements, would be helpful. Collecting and disseminating such information could help FTA be better positioned to respond to changes in the transit industry that could impact its own efforts and goals, such as planning for future Mobility on Demand grants. In addition, most selected local transit agencies reported confusion related to reporting information about their on-demand projects into the FTA's National Transit Database, including confusion about which on-demand project data would qualify for entry. This confusion has led to possible reporting inconsistencies by some local transit agencies. Ensuring that data contained in the National Transit Database are complete and accurate is important, since according to FTA officials, FTA uses these data (1) to apportion certain grant funds to local transit agencies based on factors such as passenger miles traveled, and (2) to track its progress in achieving goals such as promoting efficient transportation systems, among other things.

Why GAO Did This Study

The public transit landscape is changing, as advances in technology have enabled more on-demand mobility services, such as ridesourcing and bike-share services. In response, some transit agencies have started to partner with private mobility companies with the aim of offering public transit riders more efficient and convenient options through on-demand services. FTA supports public transportation systems through a variety of federal grant programs.

GAO was asked to review various issues related to such partnerships. This report examines, among other things: (1) the types of partnership projects that selected transit agencies have initiated with private mobility companies and (2) how DOT's efforts and funding and federal requirements may impact such partnerships. GAO interviewed DOT officials and reviewed DOT documents; interviewed 16 local transit agencies and 13 private mobility companies involved in transit partnerships; and reviewed 22 projects initiated by the selected partners, including 5 funded by the Mobility on Demand Sandbox grant program. GAO selected these partners to represent a range of service types and geographic locations; the results are non-generalizable.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making three recommendations including that FTA disseminate information about how partnership projects met federal requirements and how data on partnerships should be entered into the National Transit Database. DOT concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at (202) 512-2834 or goldsteinm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOT concurred with this recommendation. As of September 2018, FTA plans to implement it by continuing its efforts to share information through various communities of practice, newsletters, conference presentations and other communication methods. Further, FTA plans to hold an external webinar by December 2019 to gather information from the MOD Sandbox grantees and from other local transit agencies that did not receive funding through the program. This webinar will include discussions of issues including: new models in innovative partnerships; key considerations in implementing these partnerships; and how transit agencies have complied with relevant federal requirements including ADA, Title VI and other requirements in such partnerships.

    Recommendation: FTA should gather and publicly share information on transit partnerships, including those that did not receive funding through the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program, to include examples regarding how various local transit agencies complied with federal requirements--such as procurement, drug and alcohol testing, ADA, and Title VI requirements--while offering new on-demand services in partnerships. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOT concurred with this recommendation. As of September 2018, FTA planned to implement it by updating its NTD manual to include a new data collection field for on-demand services provided by Transportation Network Companies (TNC) in order to track these separately from other types of on-demand services. FTA will post a proposed update to clarify whether and how to report TNC-provided services into the NTD. FTA plans to post the proposed revisions along with specifications for which on-demand services qualify as "Public transportation" to the NTD policy in the Federal Register for comment. FTA anticipates completing these actions by June 30, 2020.

    Recommendation: FTA should determine which on-demand services qualify as "public transportation" based on the statutory definition and disseminate information to clarify whether and how to report data from such services into the National Transit Database (NTD). (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOT concurred with this recommendation. As of September 2018, FTA planned to implement it by holding a public webinar to share best practices related to transit partnerships, including templates for data-sharing between local transit agencies and their private mobility company partners. FTA plans to hold this webinar by December 2019.

    Recommendation: FTA should gather and publically share information on transit partnerships, including those that were not part of the MOD Sandbox program, to include: information on how the local transit agencies and their private mobility company partners are facilitating data sharing, and minimum data needed from a private partner to facilitate NTD reporting. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

 

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