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

Project Details
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 Read more

Problem Statement

Connecting people to employment, education, healthcare, and other amenities through public transportation often requires that services cross boundaries, from the jurisdictional boundaries between local governments to the service area boundaries between transit agencies. Boundary-crossing often requires coordination among multiple organizations. For example, a regional transit funding scheme may involve participation by multiple local jurisdictions. Connection of fixed routes linking a core city to an outlying suburb may be supported by interagency agreements among transit providers. Through these mechanisms and others, the planning and implementation of public transportation in the balkanized region could be as efficient, equitable, and effective if not more so than that delivered in the region with one or only a handful of organizations. However, we lack the empirical evidence that would help us discern to what extent we can explain systematic variation in transportation outcomes by looking at differences in the formal institutional structure of metropolitan public ...transportation systems. Are some forms of metropolitan governance better than others? Answering this question requires, first, measures of governance that can be taken of any metropolitan region, and that can serve as the key explanatory variables in analysis of transportation, and specifically, public transportation, outcomes. The goal of this research project was to develop such measures, and in this document, we highlight some of the interesting takeaways from our data collection and Read more


The Transit Governance Index TGI can help identify holes in the system, and jurisdictions that could be better served by the cross-jurisdictional governance and financing strategies identified in the TGI. The TGI overcomes past inadequacies in the literature by working with a large cross section of metropolitan areas. There is already research suggesting the potential for local financing mechanisms to limit integrated regional transportation planning, but it does not say to what extent local taxes, regulations, and other local powers might affect transit system integration, and other outcomes associated with it. This study makes further research into questions of this sort by collecting the data needed to correlate transit service quality and other factors like economic development with the institutions that support transit service.



This project will lay the groundwork for further study of the connection between transportation institutions and outcomes like service quality, economic development and equity of transportation service. None of these analyses would be possible without the underlying data provided by this project. While past studies have recognized the need for service integration across transit agencies, to improve efficiency, there has been little consideration of the role institutions play in degrading transit service and creating the need for the many technological fixes the field has tried to develop (e.g. smart cards). This study is the most comprehensive governance study of public transit that we are aware of and could open a new line of research.

We have already presented some of the results to practitioners ..at the Texas Mobility Summit, and many are asking for copies of the report. The study has the potential to provide useful data on the gaps in the transit system and can help target avenues for policy improvements. For example, in each metro area, it will be possible to identify where transit does not serve, what funding, formal governance and interagency arrangements are in place governing transit and compare to other metro areas of similar size or circumstances, in order to facilitate development of policies that would strengthen the transit system through interagency cooperation, multijurisdictional local transportation funding, or other means.

Public transportation has the potential to strengthen the economy, promote development, and bring jobs to the region. It can get people without a car to work or school. This study is the first step towards more research into the connection between institutions and transit outcomes. State and national policy makers will be able to design transit funding and governance strategies that improve efficiency. For example, in cases where federal funding supports multiple local transit services in the same region, this data could identify places where federal programs could better Read more

Downloadable Documents

Subjects#: Equity, Finance, Governance, Job Access, Regional Planning, Transit Agencies