U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2002 Conditions and Performance Report
|Chapter 2: System and Use Characteristics|
Part I: Description of Current System
Part II: Investment Performance Analyses
Part III: Bridges
Part IV: Special Topics
Part V: Supplemental Analyses of System Components
Transit Services and Jurisdiction
Since the 1960s, the ownership and operation of most transit systems in the United States have been transferred from private to public hands. This transformation occurred with the large influx of Federal funding following the passage of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, which specified that Federal transit aid funds were to be given to local or metropolitan-level public agencies and not to private firms or state governments. The Act also required local governments to contribute local matching funds for the provision of transit services in order to receive Federal aid.
Before 1960, the Federal Government had not focused on transit issues. But by the end of the 1950s it was becoming clear to all levels of government that developing and sustaining public transportation services was an important national and local concern. Studies undertaken by state and local governments in major cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, highlighted the need for creating or improving transit facilities and programs.
Transit operations have increasingly become the subject of State initiatives in the form of financial support and performance oversight, as well as outright ownership and operation of services. Five states—Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—own and operate transit services while five more States—Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington—have created initiatives for dedicated transit funding. This trend toward State involvement is likely to increase as a result of the planning provisions mandated by the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 (CAAA), the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act of 1991 (ISTEA), and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
As many local governments have come to understand the regional nature of transportation problems, metropolitan planning organizations have assumed more responsibility for formulating transit policy. Regional planning allows local officials to consider the effects of the transportation system on other characteristics of the urban environment, including land use, the location and creation of employment, and accessibility, i.e., the ease with which local residents and visitors can reach locations for business, medical, educational, and recreational purposes.
While most transit use continues to occur in major metropolitan areas, it is becoming increasingly important in small urban areas and rural areas. In 2000, there were 614 local public transit operators serving 408 both large and small urbanized areas, 1,215 operators serving rural areas, and 3,673 providers of specialized service to the elderly and disabled in both urban and rural areas.
Urban Transit Systems
The urban transit system continues to grow in the United States. In 2000, urban transit systems operated 106,395 vehicles, of which 82,545 were in urbanized areas of more than 1 million people. Rail operators controlled 10,572 miles of track and served 2,825 stations. There were also 759 maintenance facilities in urban areas for transit vehicles in use compared with 729 in 1997. Between 1997 and 2000, the number of urban transit vehicles increased by 2.6 percent, track mileage grew by 6.6 percent, the number of stations increased by 5.4 percent, and the number of urban maintenance facilities grew by 4.1 percent. [See Exhibit 2-16].
Coverage of Transit Systems (Urban Route Miles)
The coverage of the U.S. transit network may be analyzed by examining the historical trend of urban transit directional route miles. Directional route mileage measures the distance covered by a transit route independent of the number of vehicles that serve that route, i.e., when routes overlap, the mileage is counted separately for each route. Directional route miles are counted for vehicles traveling in a particular direction. This accounts for such transit route features as one-way loops. Routes may be along fixed guideways (as in the case of rail modes) or separated bus guideways, or may share city streets with other vehicles (as with most bus routes).
Transit directional rail route miles (route miles) increased consistently between 1991 and 2000 at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent, raising their share of total transit route miles from 4.5 to 5.3 percent. This increase reflects the “New Start” rail systems and extensions that have become operational during this period. Non-rail route miles grew at a 1.0 percent average annual rate between 1991 and 2000, but declined slightly (0.4 percent) between 1999 and 2000, primarily as a result of a decline in motor bus route miles. This decline contributed to a 0.3 percent decline in total transit route miles between 1999 and 2000, but, on average, total transit route miles grew at an average of 1.1 percent annually between 1991 and 2000. [See Exhibit 2-17].
Capacity-equivalent vehicle revenue miles (VRM) is the distance traveled by a transit vehicle in passenger-carrying revenue service, adjusted by the carrying capacity of the type of transit vehicle, with the capacity of a motor bus representing the baseline. For example, if a commuter rail vehicle has a seating capacity of 2.2 times the capacity of an average motor bus, each commuter rail vehicle VRM is multiplied by 2.2 to calculate commuter rail capacity-equivalent VRMs. In 2000, transit operators supplied 3.77 billion capacity-equivalent miles of service in the United States. Of this total, slightly less than half was provided by rail modes and slightly more than half by non-rail modes. Between 1991 and 2000, capacity-equivalent VRM provided by rail increased at an average annual rate of 2.0 percent compared with a 1.8 percent average annual increase by non-rail modes. Since 1997, however, capacity-equivalent VRM provided by non-rail modes have increased slightly more rapidly than those provided by rail, at a 3.5 percent average annual rate compared to a 2.7 percent for rail. [See Exhibit 2-18].
Passenger miles traveled (PMT), or the total number of miles traveled by passengers in transit vehicles, increased at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent between 1991 and 2000. [See Exhibit 2-19]. Passenger travel growth on rail modes was more than three times higher than on non-rail modes (3.2 percent versus 0.9 percent on an average annual basis). In 2000, PMT on rail was 24.6 billion and accounted for nearly 55 percent of total PMT while, as noted above, rail accounts for only 5 percent of urban transit route miles. Passenger miles traveled have grown rapidly since 1993, following a decline between 1989-93. This rapid growth was fueled principally by significant increases in rail PMT while the change in travel on non-rail modes has been erratic. This difference again reflects the recent expansion of rail transit in the United States.
Vehicle occupancy is calculated as passenger miles traveled divided by capacity-equivalent VRM. This measure relates the level of transit service consumed by passengers to the level transit service provided by transit operators. In 2000, vehicle occupancy was 12.0 passengers per capacity-equivalent vehicle for all transit services, 13.2 passengers for rail modes, and 10.8 passengers for nonrail modes. Although vehicle occupancy reached a new high in 2000, it has remained relatively constant over the past decade. The high level of occupancy reached in 2000 resulted from an increase in the occupancy of rail vehicles; the number of passengers per capacity equivalent non-rail vehicle declined slightly. [See Exhibit 2-20].
Rural Transit Systems
Data on rural transit operators is available from surveys conducted by the Community Transportation Association of America and funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Rural operators are defined as those providing service outside urbanized areas or to areas with populations of less than 50,000. Two surveys were conducted in 1997 and 2000 with a total of 158 rural transit operators responding. Data collected from June 1997 to June 1999 have been combined for the purposes of this analysis. [See Exhibit 2-21].
In 1997, there were 1,215 rural transit operators. While the number of rural transit providers remained relatively constant, fleet sizes expanded dramatically between 1994 and 1999. The 108 providers that responded had an average fleet size of 17.5 vehicles compared with an average fleet size of 11 vehicles in 1994—an increase of almost 50 percent. Correspondingly, the median fleet size in the most recent survey increased to 9 vehicles, compared with a median size of 6 vehicles in 1994.
The majority of rural transit operators’ vehicles are small buses (16 to 24 passengers) and vans (8 to 15 passengers). According to the recent survey, vehicle fleets of rural transit operators are comprised principally of vans, which account for 54 percent of a rural fleet on average, and small buses, which account for 23 percent on average. Small vehicles (fewer than 8 passengers) accounted for an average of 10 percent of rural fleets, medium buses (25 to 35 passengers) for 9 percent and large buses (more than 35 passengers) for a mere 4 percent.
Transit System Characteristics for Americans with Disabilities and the Elderly
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is intended to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to public transportation vehicles and facilities. Since its passage in 1990, transit operators have been working towards upgrading their regular vehicles fleets to accommodate the disabled. In 2000, 74 percent of all rail vehicles and 73 percent of all non-rail vehicles were ADA compliant. Forty-seven percent of commuter rail vehicles (excluding commuter rail locomotives), 89 percent of heavy rail vehicles, and 83 percent of motor bus vehicles were ADA compliant.
In addition to the services provided by urban transit operators, there are about 3,673 private and non-profit agencies that receive FTA Section 5310 funding for the provision of “special” public transportation services to persons with disabilities and the elderly. These providers include religious organizations, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation centers, the American Red Cross, nursing homes, community action centers, sheltered workshops and coordinated human services transportation providers. These providers operate vehicles ranging from large buses to station wagons. Vans account for approximately 75 percent of the “special service” national fleet, small buses for 13 percent, and large buses and automobiles for 12 percent.
Approximately 75 percent of the vehicles purchased in FY 2000 were wheelchair accessible, about the same as in the past few years. [See Exhibits 2-22 and 2-23].
Under the ADA, FTA was given responsibility for identifying “key rail stations” and facilitating the accessibility of these stations to disabled persons.
In 2000, there were 689 key rail stations. Key rail stations are identified on the basis of the following criteria: