This month, we’ve been hard at work helping small cities on their quest to earn up to $1.1 million to fix buses and buy new ones, hire more drivers, and provide cheaper and more convenient transportation options to the public.
Meet Flagstaff, Arizona. With only 100,000 rides 14 years ago, Flagstaff is a true example of a small transit intensive city, reporting over 1.8 million trips this year.
That growth has been fueled, in part, by over $1.5 million in STIC funding awarded to Flagstaff’s Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) over the program’s 8 year life. Now, with the help of Transit Labs, Flagstaff expects to earn almost $2 million in funding over fiscal years 2015 and 2016 alone, and over $1 million each year thereafter.
As these graphs clearly show, Flagstaff has consistently worked its way up to the FTA thresholds over the last 8 years, earning 3 STIC factors for the first time in Fiscal Year 2011, and earning an additional fourth STIC factor in 2014.
NAIPTA’s growth and STIC eligibility have been on a consistent positive trajectory, largely because of the agency’s diligence in constantly tracking and re-assessing the needs of the community they serve. This has resulted in a constant and efficient growth in service consumed as well as an increase in their STIC eligibility. Looking to FY2017, we are working with NAIPTA to coordinate data collection, calibration, and reporting to the National Transit Database (NTD) for university and vanpool services in the Flagstaff area that will help NAIPTA continue to earn more funding.
Cities and transit agencies across the country can better position themselves to qualify for STIC funds by retrieving unreported data, correcting inaccuracies in their collected data, and ensuring that all transit providers in their city report and contribute to the city’s overall KPIs used to determine STIC apportionments.
If you’re one of these fifty cities, we believe there’s an opportunity for you to earn more funds than you are currently, at minimum by $200,000. Flagstaff was the first city in our report, help spread the word to the other 49!
Transit in small cities is playing a bigger role than ever in connecting people to jobs, schools, and local communities. In Q3 of 2014, public transportation provided over 2.7 billion trips — the highest since 1974. Small cities like Wenatchee, WA (with a population of 31,925) are being recognized for record-breaking ridership alongside transit-intensive metropolises like Oakland, Denver, and New York City.
With the recent exponential growth of large cities, small localities have been clamoring for a seat at the table both at the Federal and State levels. In an effort to help address the public transportation needs of smaller cities, Congress developed the Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program to provide additional federal dollars for cities with high transit service consumption levels.
In August of last year, eighteen members of Congress led by Sam Farr (D-CA) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) co-authored a bipartisan letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requesting that the funding for STIC apportionments be increased from 1.5% to 3% of the Urbanized Area (5307) formula fund.
Right before the holidays, we organized a roundtable on this very topic: STIC funding for cities with awesome transit, where Congressional staff learned how to help their cities qualify for more of these funds. (Read more about our STIC report here.)
Microsoft’s Policy and Innovation Center was gracious enough to host us along with policymakers, representatives from STIC cities, and transportation advocates to discuss the program.
Panelists discussed some of the cities earning the most STIC funds by serving large elderly, military, and university populations.
Non-emergency Medical Transport. Medicaid is the largest of the 80 federal programs providing transportation services, spending $2-3 billion each year. This is a crucial service to ensure that the elderly have access to medical care. States independently implement their programs, including transportation, as long as they follow the federal framework. Coordination with local transit agencies has been a discussion point since the ‘90s for budgetary and customer experience efficiency. Medicaid Transport service data can contribute to cities and earn them more funds.
Military.Serving 3 of California’s military bases, Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) has earned over $6,000,000 in STIC funds. Creating several express routes for military men and women, MST has allowed the area to enjoy the benefits of a military base without the traffic congestion.
“MST now has 13 new routes connecting military personnel and the general public to work, school, and shopping destinations with ridership growing to more than 530,000 annual boardings,” said Carl Sedoryk, CEO of Monterey-Salinas Transit.
Universities. Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia (UGA), has had transit for college students dating back to the late 1960s. In 2009, Athens Transit CEO Butch McDuffie teamed up with UGA to report their service data to the FTA. In the four years since, Athens has earned over $1,600,000 in STIC funds and ranks fourth nationally in trips/person behind only New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
As the debate over transportation funding heats up in the coming months, it is important that all leaders across transit whether big or small, plays their part in communicating the impact the transit has on the entire nation. Making sure that the public has a truly comprehensive picture of service consumption would be a great starting point to inform our nation’s infrastructure investment decisions.
Want to join the conversation? Look out for another briefing next month.
Thanks to everyone who attended the roundtable briefing. Special thanks to Scott Bogren of Community Transportation Association of America for sharing his expertise on the STIC program and insights into the efforts to expand it. And of course, a big thank you to our good friends at Microsoft for providing the venue.
We’ve just completed a transit funding analysis of small cities with high transit service utilization through the Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program, mandated by Congress and implemented by the FTA. We found that in many cases, cities are missing the factors FTA has established to determine the apportionment breakdown of STIC funds — sometimes by mere decimal points.
These missed opportunities mean at minimum $192,016 missed in federal funding — and in some cases, much more. We also found many small cities to be at risk of losing funds that they have been earning as their eligibility criteria barely exceeded FTA benchmarks.
HOW WE GOT HERE
At Transit Labs, we’re passionate about transportation — and we’re all about data, especially about making sure it’s collected correctly and that it’s useful. Our mission is to provide actionable data enabling transit systems to proactively improve service, qualify for more funds, and ultimately be rewarded for performance.
In October, as part of our 6 month nationwide pilot, we normalized 10 years of National Transit Database (NTD) funding apportionment data on Microsoft’s Azure Government Cloud (currently in Preview) in order to better understand how transportation funding is allocated, and what cities and transit agencies can do to align themselves with federal planning objectives to earn more funds.
Cities and transit agencies can better position themselves to qualify for these funds by retrieving unreported data, correcting inaccuracies in their collected data, and ensuring that all transit providers in their city report and contribute to the city’s overall KPIs used to determine STIC apportionments.
You can download the full report here, or view it below.
Transit ridership in the United States has increased by 15% since 2004 — double the population growth rate — according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Through the increased use of performance data, Congress is rewarding small cities that are leading the pack through a funding formula administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Until 2005, federal funding for small cities relied solely on population data from the U.S. Census. The Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program introduced the use of service and ridership data collected by the FTA’s National Transit Database (NTD) to reward high levels of transit investment and utilization. Last year, 124 cities made the cut, and were awarded a total of $64,517,448 through the program.
THE HISTORY OF FUNDING FOR SMALL TRANSIT INTENSIVE CITIES
These results were translated into a new approach to transit funding for small UZAs, thanks to Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), staffers such as Joyce Rose (Rep. John Mica R-FL) and Debbie Merrill (Rep. Farr), efforts by FTA staff such as Rich Steinman, and many small city transit advocates. The Small Transit Intensive Cities Program was developed through these efforts as an element of the federal surface transportation spending bill that was signed into law in 2005 entitled “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users” (SAFETEA-LU).
The STIC program allocated 1% of funds from the FTA’s $4.3 billion Urban Area 5307 Formula Program to incentivize greater transit service and ridership in smaller UZAs. The 5307 program requires UZAs to report service details and operating expenses to the NTD in order to receive funds and support for operations and planning.
To qualify for STIC funds, cities are evaluated on six factors:
Small cities earn supplementary 5307 funds if their service data reflects a level of operation and passenger utilization comparable to transit systems of large UZAs with populations ranging from 200,000-999,999. The program quickly proved to be a success without increasing transportation spending at the federal level; however, as participation grew, individual apportionments were reduced. Congressional leaders, through MAP-21, increased the funding level for STIC from 1% ($152,636) of 5307 funds to 1.5% ($192,016 per factor) beginning in FY2013. With 39% of small UZAs qualifying (124 systems out of 319), STIC has provided discretionary funds that reward performance. Since the program started, 165 communities have qualified at least once.
Transit Labs Partners with Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) to Spur Economic Growth, Modernize and Make City’s Transportation Network More Efficient
Detroit To Make Real-Time Transportation Decisions and
Model Future Service With Cutting-Edge Data Visualization,
Analytics and Microsoft Cloud Computing
Washington, D.C. (Wednesday, September 17, 2014) – Following the momentum of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Detroit and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s visit promoting the TIGER M-1 rail grant, Transit Labs CEO and Founder Dag Gogue today announced a partnership with the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) to make the city’s public transportation more efficient.
The partnership will bring data visualization and analytics, as well as cloud computing, to turn the public transportation system in Detroit into a truly integrated and modernized 21st century regional transportation network. Transit Labs is a cutting-edge transportation analytics startup that uses software to gather a transit system’s data about ridership, personnel, assets, safety and funding in one place. It then crunches those numbers to help agencies operate their systems more efficiently and report necessary information to regulators.
“Strong data analytics and visualizations will assist us in our efforts to increase accessibility to public transportation options, reignite economic activity throughout the city and offer an improved quality of service our customers deserve,” said Paul Toliver, Deputy Director of the Detroit Department of Transportation.
Transit Labs will integrate data already collected by the city, including automated passenger counters, automated vehicle locators, next bus arrival data and more, and overlay it with census, GIS and economic activity data. Operators, planners and executive leadership will now have a better picture of their transit system and be able to evaluate historical performance, make real-time decisions and model future service and growth.
The analytics will be powered by Microsoft Azure Government (currently in Preview), which will serve as the infrastructure platform housing the city’s transportation data. “We are looking forward to working closely with Detroit DOT as they take advantage of Microsoft’s cloud and data platform to help transform the city’s transportation information system,” said Kim Nelson, Executive Director, State and Local Government Solutions at Microsoft and the U.S. lead for Microsoft’s CityNext initiative.
Transit Labs’ preliminary analysis shows that:
● Operating cost per service hour for fixed bus service increased by almost 20% between 2007 and 2012.
● Service and labor hours were cut by 25% and 35% respectively.
● Paratransit service has experienced a 96% decline in ridership. Those affected include the most vulnerable residents, the elderly and disabled.
● Roughly one third of Detroit’s buses are consistently out of service for maintenance, scheduling has been highly volatile and wait times are longer and uncertain.
“The number one obstacle to increasing ridership in any city is the uncertainty of not knowing when the bus you need will actually arrive, followed by long wait times,” said Gogue. “Bringing Detroit’s data onto the cloud will enable the city to address this with real-time fleet and schedule management and stimulate economic activity throughout the city.”
The announcement with Detroit comes on the heels of the fast-moving company’s partnerships with Miami-Dade Transit, Atlanta Regional Commission, Macon Transit Authority and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
With our launch party right around the corner… (It’s tomorrow so don’t forget to RSVP to [email protected]!) 1776 caught up 1 on 1 with our CEO to talk about Transit Labs’ work, why we chose to be located in D.C., and the data-driven future of transportation.
This Thursday, Transit Labs—a 1776 member—will host its launch event to show-off the work and tools that the Transit Labs team has been busy devising and building, said cofounder Dag Gogue. The event will feature a number of industry experts, national organizations, transit representatives, federal transit representatives, Hill staffers, and think tanks.
It’s also just going to be a great party, Gogue says.
1776 caught up with Gogue post-Challenge Cup and pre-launch to talk about Transit Labs’ work, why they chose to be located in D.C., and the data-driven future of transportation.
Why and how did you become interested in public transportation?
I have a background in math and software engineering. Right out of college I worked for transportation engineering firms that were getting into the business of providing embedded software solutions in mobile devices to aid in data collection. I got to work on and write GPS enabled applications to collect survey data for specific geographic transportation areas, and eventually worked my way up the company ladder.
Why the switch to a startup? Why Transit Labs?
Well, that’s a good question. Transit Labs isn’t the first company in this arena, but we are one of the first to devise, deliver, and execute comprehensive solutions for the industry. The lion’s share of Transportation Funding comes from the federal government, and as I delved more into that realm, I became intrigued with the process. There is the National Transit Database which is used to determine funding allocations, which all transit agencies must submit data to. As I worked in the industry, I built products to solve a number of inefficiencies and improve reliability of transit agencies. But due to the numerous restraints that exist within the system, it made sense to switch to a startup. Now Transit Labs covers the full spectrum: from devising comprehensive solutions, to building, and then implementation.
Why did you choose to locate Transit Labs in D.C.?
D.C. is the perfect environment for tackling an issue that affects the entire country. There is a great synergy of think tanks, academia, government, private sector and now a growing technology and startup culture.
What would you say is the mission statement of Transit Labs, then?
I don’t have any special statement memorized to tell you, but what I’d like to be able to do is to facilitate the use of “actionable intelligence” at the senior tables of everyone involved in public transportation. I would like to efficiently inform decisions on how many buses are allocated to each route, how long are times between trains supposed to be, how to budget and allocate funds to different transit systems all together. And I’d like to help Federal Transit Administration make decisions on how to appropriate grants to rural, urban, and large urban transit systems. The availability of high quality and specialized data can enable decision-makers to make the right decisions, and that’s what I want Transit Labs to do. Enable decision-makers to make the right decisions, there’s the mission statement.
So wait, can you fix the D.C. Metro? What commons issues does D.C.’s Metro share with other transit networks?
I can! Well, okay, I wouldn’t say “fix,” just because in the grand scheme of things, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority functions well in comparison to many other systems across the nation. But we have an application, TAP, that could absolutely help them improve and modernize their data collection practices and extract actionable intelligence from their data.
If you can’t have reliable timely information, you can’t make good decisions. A big issue is reliability of maintenance data. The Federal Transit Authority is pushing all public transportation systems to submit data on “state of good repair.” However, this data collection is not standardized, but good data can be compiled to minimize failure rates. Without the standardized data, repairs are haphazard—thus the breakdowns and the high rate of mechanical failures we see with the D.C. Metro.
One problem D.C. Metro and other transit systems face is one of short term funding. The standardization of data costs money, but can save money in the long run. The stakeholders who use those networks are always focused on the number of trains, busses, etc.—the visible aspects of public transportation. People responsible for operating systems therefore have skewed priorities to these visible aspects of transportation. The mission is to keep buses and trains running, and on time—their strength not in analyzing data and long term plans with actionable plans for maintenance and service consumption. If they can get away with not doing it, they won’t do it because it isn’t their strength. Transit Labs wants to make this easier, so people can use it better.
Transit Labs has made the investment in a software foundation to facilitate the data collection and analysis pieces, so that transit officials can now have the intelligence that they need to make fully-informed decisions to create better, cleaner, and cheaper public transit.
How does your product, the Transportation Application Platform (TAP), address this problem?
Well, there are three ‘modules’ that TAP uses to do this.
What are these modules?
There are two modules for data collection. First, the National Transit Database Module, and then the Operational Analysis Module. The third module is Performance Metrics, which aggregates data from first two modules to provide actionable intelligence to our customer base.
How do the modules work?
The first module is the National Transit Database (NTD) Module. There is a mandate by Congress for each transit agency that receives federal subsidies to submit transit data. The data collected is very detailed for and in various areas such as services supplied, services consumed, asset inventory, funding, incident reports, maintenance reports. The NTD Module enables transit systems to sync up their internal data and information systems such as maintenance, and accounting to the module. The module can then automatically extract pertinent data required for the NTD. This is a major advantage because the primary issue with NTD has been the quality of the data submitted. TAP addresses this by removing need for manual data entry and automating the collection process. TAP also allows self-validation of data without needing to wait for questions from NTD. The module has also already integrated about 10 years of NTD data into the application architecture to compare current submissions to historical trends.
The Second Module is the Operational Analysis Module. This module involves transit specific data. In addition to NTD, all transit systems have some standard internal, local and state data collection requirements, such as route specific and system-wide passenger activity analysis, origin/destination and travel pattern studies, asset inventories, and maintenance schedules. The problem is that much of this data, especially passenger and corresponding route data, is still done with pencil and paper. Transit Labs has developed a tablet based application to replace pencil-and-paper surveys, and the application uses geolocation to validate route data from surveys and immediately upload the standardized data to a transit agency’s own network.
The Third Module is the Performance Metrics Module. Once the data is collected and standardized, that data can be shared. With TAP, the local transit data from, say, Minnesota can be viewed and utilized throughout the country. This would be immensely valuable to transit agencies of a similar size and scope, as they could collectively view and assess transit intelligence to improve mode of service delivered within their jurisdiction. So at a high level, customers can use filters and characteristics based on Key Performance Indicators to identify top ten peers systems throughout the country and compare performance, service, and trends.
In basic terms, how will all of this data, and these modules, improve public transportation? Who will be the customers?
That is going to ultimately depend on exactly who is using the data. For example, the Transit systems have an immediate need to internally evaluate resources and services. The ability to compare cities, counties and states of comparable size that operate in a similar manner will be of immediate and tangible benefit to transit systems.
State governments will also have use of our data. State governments are of course responsible for some level of planning or funding of transit in their state, and our data can enable a bird’s eye view of transit networks within state jurisdictions to enable better funding decisions.
The federal government will also benefit. Whether it is the Department of Transportation, Congress, or other federal agency, higher quality data and more intuitive interfaces enables non-experts to make more timely and informed decisions on where to allocate funding. For example, expanding the availability of fleets and changing types of vehicles within those fleets are decisions being faced right now. There is a move away from traditional engines to more fuel efficient engines, and our data can identify where those older vehicles are and how and where best to phase in the new vehicles.
Although it is somewhat more of an open question, the private sector will also benefit. If a company is trying to decide where to build new strip mall, or other commercial center, how do they do the cost-benefit analysis? Transit Labs could provide data that shows the availability of transit networks or even provide an idea of where those networks will grow in the future.
Do you think public-private partnerships have a role in the future of transit? If so, what?
I consider Transit Laps a tech startup more than a public-private partnership, and we’re staffed with technology and policy analysts. That said, there is a huge role for such partnerships in the future of transit. Public-Private Partnerships are the new way forward. From privately owned lands used in construction of new transit networks to the strategic placement of transit stops, there needs to be a system to cultivate and grow a business or culture with the private sector that accomplishes the goals of public transportation. The success of Transit in general can only be created through efficient and effective partnerships between the private sector, and relevant local, state, and federal entities. We’ve seen these partnerships grow in recent years, especially with start-ups—and we look forward to playing a larger role in future partnerships between transit and the private sector.
What policy changes are needed for public transportation?
I’m not a policy expert, but I would say two things. First, Congress could be a major catalyst in requiring the collection of accurate, standardized data for the betterment of the national transportation infrastructure. Second, Congress should strongly consider allocating more funding to transit projects. The nationwide shift to urbanization means the key to easing congestion is more efficient public transportation.
You were a finalist in the 1776 Challenge Cup. What was that experience like?
It was my first competition that did not feel like a competition. There was a great energy from all participants, and I loved meeting all the other start-ups and cheering for everyone, even our competitors. It was a win-win, and lots of fun.
You have an official launch event next week. Tell me about the launch event. Who will be there?
The launch event Thursday is with a number of industry experts, national organizations, local, county and state transit representatives, federal transit representatives, Hill staffers, and think tanks. The idea is to show-off the work and tools that the Transit Labs team has been busy devising and building, and to share ideas and get input from the experts in attendance. Also, we rarely need a strong reason for hosting a fun party.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to the various aspects of public transit – from state and local to federal. One thing I noticed is that transit officials tend to get a bad reputation because the quality of transit can obviously be greatly improved. But it is not for a lack of trying. Transit officials are very dedicated to their jobs and mission, and do accomplish a lot. It is not a fact that is often talked about and they deserve credit.