Overcoming Local Barriers to Regional Transportation: Understanding Transit System Fragmentation from an Institutionalist Framework

Project ID: CTEDD 017-08

Author(s): David Weinreich, University of Texas at Arlington

CTEDD Funding Year: 2017 General RFP

Project Status: Complete

UTC Funding: $64,454.65

End Date: August 31, 2018

While the federal government spends billions on transit projects each year, many regions have poor coordination of services, with some regions having over 21 transit agencies failing to offer integrated schedules, fares and services, while other regions have large swaths that are completely unserved. Many of these inefficiencies are not due to a lack of technology or funding, but to failing of the local funding and governmental structure. For example, many states allow local jurisdictions to opt out of the transit system entirely, creating a patchwork of cities without any service at all. Service gaps make it difficult for residents to access jobs, health care, education, and other services needed to climb the economic ladder.

This study is the first national research to quantify the effects of local and state governance and finance policy on the public transportation system. We examined 12,569 separate jurisdictions in the top 200 metro regions in the US. We have assembled comprehensive data on fragmentation in the transit system, as well as the governance and finance mechanisms being employed at the local, regional and state levels to provide transit that crosses local jurisdictional boundaries. A decline in revenues from the motor fuel tax due to inflation and fuel economy have led to less reliability of federal funding sources for transportation. This has led to a localization of transportation funding.

However, there was not a comprehensive dataset of the local governance and finance systems in place across the US, hindering federal and state efforts to devolve transportation decision making to the local level, and creating the potential for undesirable outcomes due to mismanagement. This project produces the first comprehensive database of transit agency governance, covering the largest 200 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, across 47 states, plus Washington, DC. This will allow for comparisons across 12,569 cities, counties, or local governments; and 618 transit agencies.

The study also creates a national index of transit fragmentation, as well as “regionalization,” that quantifies region’s success at bridging its jurisdictional fissures. For example, how well the region developed institutions like cross-agency agreements (essentially contracts between transit agencies), shared board memberships, multijurisdictional funding policies and governance, which would tie local jurisdictions together and facilitate unified transit decision making—and make it easier to develop unified services.