The purpose of this research study was to gather information on, and develop preliminary plans for methods to facilitate delivery of public transportation at the regional level in North Carolina. This study identified barriers to the integration of transit systems at the regional level, evaluated best practices from North Carolina and other states, and developed recommendations for programmatic and legislative changes to facilitate the implementation of regional transit systems in both metropolitan and rural areas of the state.
As regions grow in population and geographic area, the demand for transit trips becomes more regional in nature, and transit organizations need to effectively respond to this demand. The creation of a regional transportation agency can offer a number of important benefits: Benefits to Riders - A primary rationale for creating a regional transportation agency is to provide better service to a region's riders. A multi-county transit agency can more efficiently and effectively accommodate trips that cross county lines, which are common for purposes of medical services, employment, training programs, and special employment programs such as sheltered workshops. An adequately funded regional agency may also be able to hold fares at a more affordable level, and be better able to provide rider benefits such as a centralized travel information center. More Effective Regional Planning - The functions of Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Rural Transportation Planning Organizations (RPOs) are facilitated when there is a regional transportation agency that can develop a comprehensive regional plan for public transportation operations and investment. Ability to Address Regional Transportation Problems - A regional transportation agency can provide a more effective mechanism for addressing such important regional problems as traffic congestion and air pollution. Adequate Funding for Public Transportation - A regional transportation agency can be created with its own dedicated funding source. This can result in a more coordinated or integrated fare systems, and new service in unserved or underserved areas. Dedicated funding can also insure that the transit system can provide matching funds for state and federal grant opportunities. Transportation and Land Use Planning - An effective regional transportation agency can enable more integrated and balanced land use planning. Operational and Administrative Economies - A regional system can provide many operating benefits such as eliminating duplicate routes from overlapping transit system boundaries, coordinating schedules, and achieving operational economies of scale. Equally important, there are opportunities to realize significant savings and efficiencies by consolidating administrative functions into a single agency. Administrative savings are especially prevalent among small and rural multi-county transit systems. In addition to potential savings in labor costs, there are also opportunities to develop and implement more efficient and effective marketing, fare, and other programs at the regional level. Savings may be reinvested in transit systems to improve the quality of their services. Building Rail Systems - A major advantage of a regional transit agency in an urban area is its ability to plan, design, fund and build a regional rail system. Coordination or Consolidation with Special or Rural Public Transportation Services - A regional transportation agency is able to more efficiently provide human service agency transportation, or to coordinate with the service provided by these agencies. Develop Specialized Professional Staff - By centralizing administrative functions, a regional or multi-county agency is more likely to be able to meet the expense of and develop more specialized professional staff. Improved Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Department of Transportation - A smaller number of transit systems can make organizing and implementing programs and projects easier and more effective for state DOT staff.
ITRE conducted case studies of 35 transit systems from 13 states plus North Carolina, comprising 15 metropolitan area systems and 20 rural systems. The study gathered information on the current state of regional public transportation systems, as well as policies and procedures to emulate and those to avoid. Information from the North Carolina case study sites also provides a basis upon which further regional coordination/consolidation may be developed.
In terms of rural multi-county transit systems, the findings include discussions regarding organizational/institutional issues, such as:
- State Legislation Promoting/Mandating Regional Transit Systems
- Flexible Legislative Provisions
- Relationships Among Constituent Organizations
- Degree of Local Control
- Governing Board Representation
- Governing Board Autonomy
- Communications Among Transportation System Member Agencies
- Local Champion
- Contiguous Boundaries with Human Service Agency Regions
- Degree of Local Control
- Effective Coordination with Urban Transit Systems
- Relationships Between Transportation and Human Service Organizations
In terms of rural metropolitan city-county transit systems, the findings include discussions regarding organizational/institutional issues, such as:
- Organizational Models, including city or county-dominated, consolidated, and federated; Governing Boards
- Geographic Area; Enabling Legislation
- General Public vs. Human Service Transportation
In addition, numerous issues regarding funding, administration, and operations of both rural multi county transit systems and metropolitan city county transit systems are addressed.
The recommendations presented in this report are divided into those that affect programmatic decisions, legislative decisions, and supplemental steps to implementation as follows:
- Programmatic Recommendations
- Organizational/Institutional: Regional Consultants; Uniform Human Service Agency Procedures; Coordination and Consolidation of CTIPs;
- Funding: Transitional Funding; Funding Incentives; Effective Use of Large Urban, Small Urban, and Rural Area Funding
- Operations: Operations Training and Technical Support; Extra-Regional Coordination; Distributed vs. Centralized Operations
- Changes to Federal and State Legislation and Policies: Federal Transportation Legislation; Coordination with Various Human Service Programs; Regional Transportation Legislation
- Organizational/Institutional: Creation; Legal Form; Territorial Jurisdiction; Immediate vs. Phased Regional Implementation; Governance; County-by-County vs. Region-Wide Approval of RTAs; Transportation Advisory Board Funding
- Funding: Dedicated Funding; Funding Equity; Dedicated Funding; Revenue Recovery Ratio Requirement; State Public Transportation Funding Appropriation: Administration
Recommendations for Next Steps:
- ITRE staff envision this report serving as an initial information source that may be provided to state and local stakeholders for review and comment. The research staff recommends that the PTD develop an action plan to accomplish the following activities: Distribute the study final report to selected North Carolina Community Transportation System and Metropolitan Transit Systems
- Conduct follow-up activities to receive initial comments from transit system managers
- Prepare information for distribution to key stakeholders-all North Carolina transit system managers, elected officials (county and municipal), planners, MPO/RPO staff, Chambers of Commerce, etc.
- Distribute this information to key stakeholders throughout the state
- Plan, conduct logistics for, and develop presentation/handout materials for regional meetings. Such meetings could be conducted in the Eastern, Piedmont, and Western parts of the state
- Conduct regional meetings to receive comments from stakeholders; Conduct further study of the potential roles for RPOs with regional transit systems. For example, might an RPO become the lead agency for a regional transit system?
- Incorporate findings into Action Plan-purpose, goals, and key activities (what, who, when)
- Prepare informational materials for NC legislators (as appropriate)
- Distribute materials to NC legislators (as appropriate)
- Invite expressions of interest from existing transit systems to consolidate into one or more regional transit systems
- Determine appropriate technical and financial assistance that will be required to support the development and implementation of one or more regional demonstration systems
- Select one or more demonstration sites to become regional transit systems; Gather operating and financial statistics on existing transit systems that will become part of one or more regional systems, to allow comparison of before and after data to determine administrative and operational efficiencies gained as a result of regionalization
- Provide technical and financial assistance to the affected transit systems before, during, and following the transition to a regional entity
- Gather operating and financial statistics on existing transit systems that became part of one or more regional systems, to allow comparison of before and after data to determine administrative and operational efficiencies gained as a result of regionalization.