A new SURTC study conducted by David Ripplinger provides information and a decision-making framework for designing and administering rural transit policies given limited public resources. Using data from transit agencies in rural North Dakota, Ripplinger estimated the benefits of different service alternatives, evaluated the justification of government subsidy of rural transit on the basis of its cost structure, and investigated the most efficient regional organization of transit.
The study investigated whether it would be more cost efficient for a single existing agency to expand service and provide both fixed-route and demand-response service or if it would be more efficient to have multiple operators in an area providing service. If service is to be increased within the service area of an existing transit agency, the study found it is more efficient for the existing agency to provide that service than to create a new agency to do so. If new service is to be added outside the service area of an existing agency, the more efficient option is influenced by the size of the existing agency. It was found to be more efficient for small transit operators to increase service into a new area than for a second agency to do so, but for larger regional systems, the study found it may be more efficient for a second agency to provide the new service. The study also found it is more efficient for small transit systems to provide both fixed-route and demand-response service than to have two different agencies specializing in each. However, for larger regional systems, the results differ, and it may be more efficient to have providers specialize in one mode. In many cases, a single transit agency operating as a monopoly was found to provide service at a lower cost than two transit agencies would, but this was not always the case.
The findings and implications are directly applicable to rural transit in North Dakota and should be helpful in informing future federal policy as well as rural transit policy, service design, and operation in other states.
The publication can be downloaded at the following link: Organizing Transit in Small Urban and Rural Communities. The study was sponsored by the University Transportation Centers Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Questions related to the research should be directed to David Ripplinger, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org