May 10, 2011

Study evaluates delegated transit management

A new study released by The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) discusses delegated management, a transit service contracting approach new to the U.S., and its effects on the service provision and transit users' perception of service quality in the New Orleans transit system.

A research team, led by Hiroyuki Iseki, Ph.D., and Charles Rivasplata, Ph.D., produced the report titled, "Examination of Regional Transit Service under Contracting: A Case Study in the Greater New Orleans Region."

The study also identified a coherent set of indices with which to evaluate regional coordination of transit service, the present status of coordination among U.S. transit agencies and barriers that must be resolved for regional transit coordination to be successful. The report is available for free download here.

This study examines two main research questions. First, what is the effect of a "delegated management" contract on efficiency and effectiveness within a single transit system? Second, what are the effects of a single private firm — contracted separately by more than one agency in the same region — on regional coordination?

"Many local governments and transit agencies in the U.S. face financial difficulties in providing adequate public transit service in individual systems, and in providing sufficient regional coordination to accommodate transit trips involving at least one transfer between systems," said Dr. Iseki. "These problems can be attributed to the recent economic downturn, reduced state and federal funds that help support local transit service, a decline in local funding for transit service in inner cities due to ongoing suburbanization and a resource distribution that responds to geographic equity without addressing service needs."

The Greater New Orleans region has a unique condition regarding provision of transit service. First, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) executed a "delegated management" contract with a multinational private firm, outsourcing more functions (e.g., management, planning, funding) to the contractor than has been typical in the U.S.

Second, the same contractor also has been contracted by another transit agency in an adjacent jurisdiction — Jefferson Transit (JeT). Therefore, this firm potentially may have economic incentives to improve regional coordination so it can increase the productivity and effectiveness of its own transit service provision.

The researchers surveyed 461 transit users in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, rating responses on a scale of Importance-Satisfaction to determine how riders perceive the quality of service in each transit system. The study also evaluates RTA and JeT performance under different contracts over time, examining each agency's financial and operating data, such as operating expenses, service quantity, consumption level of transit service, and several performance indicators for efficiency and effectiveness.

The study also analyzed questionnaires and interviews collected from directors and planners at RTA, JeT, and New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, comparing them with data from a nationwide survey of transit agencies on regional coordination indicators.

The complete report was funded by Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, University of New Orleans.

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