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Planning Flexible/Responsive Transit Service Concepts (Hybrid, On-Demand, MAAS) to Environmental/Societal Disruptions (post-pandemic environment)


During and after a pandemic, the combination of emerging approaches to on-demand transit service, reduced revenues, and reduced ridership create an urgent need for transit agencies to be more nimble and market-responsive relative to more traditional fixed route service planning and scheduling approaches. Transit agencies may wish to replace fixed routes with on-demand service as an interim or permanent measure, to modify fixed route schedules and/or alignments based on quickly changing demand patterns, or to shift resources from more traditional weekday peak period orientation to all-day, all-week services that better meet the needs of essential workers. To accomplish these changes, they need appropriate tools and near real-time data to support planning and scheduling, and they need information and guidance to manage and schedule their operator workforce as efficiently and effectively as possible, while maintaining a quality work environment and one that is compliant with applicable labor requirements. This study would identify methods and best practices to create a resource for transit agencies to use to better adapt and respond.

Although the proposed research was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, its applicability can and should extend not only to a multi-year transition back to ‘normalcy’, but also to other comparable situations in the future. Public transit agencies were already facing significant challenges and disruptions from emerging mobility services, changing demographics and market conditions, and other widespread socioeconomic changes that call for reconsideration of traditional fixed route services. The pandemic quickly exacerbated and dramatically escalated those challenges. Across the country, transit agencies were essentially forced to react by adjusting service on a timetable that otherwise would have been considered nearly impossible. They were required to do this without the detailed ridership and performance data that many have come to rely on to support their recommendations, without an inclusive and well-documented community engagement process, and in many cases without a formal board approval process. Although there is clearly value in the deliberative approach to modifying service that was pervasive among transit agencies pre-pandemic, there are also many reasons why a more agile, responsive and timely process could be advantageous for both transit agencies and the communities they serve. This research will address these complex issues and identify best practices and new approaches that transit agencies can use to become more responsive and customer-focused and better able to respond and adjust quickly in light of unanticipated external forces.


This research will provide transit agencies with guidance for planning, scheduling and implementing both short-term and longer-term of new service concepts and changes (hybrid (flexible fixed), Micro Transit, On-Demand, Lifeline, MAAS) that build upon the innovation and creative responsiveness necessitated during a pandemic or other situation of disruption. Such guidance will be based on case study summaries, survey findings, and a compilation of methods and best practices based on the pandemic-related experiences of transit agencies.


Because the recovery period for transit agencies from the COVID-19 pandemic is widely expected to be multi-year, there is time under a ‘typical’ TCRP project development cycle to deliver results, potentially including interim reports, to support transit agencies and other audiences in their recovery efforts. However, this report is also intended to build on these experiences and to provide a longer lasting product that can have broader application. By providing information and best practices in support of increased agility and responsiveness, this report can help the transit industry maintain and increase its vitality and benefit for communities nationwide, as well as help transit agencies increase efficiency and effectiveness of operation and service delivery. While it is expected that the findings of this research will have broad applicability, there are potential barriers and constraints that could impair use, including labor contract restrictions, institutional inertia and resistance to change and policy and community acceptance factors.

More efficient and effective transit service in response to environmental and societal disruptions utilizing new service concepts that that provide for flexible and responsive implementations.

Related Research:



At a minimum, in response to the stated objectives, the research plan should address the following tasks: 

1.   Catalogue and evaluate transit agency responses to COVID-19 across the U.S.


Service structure and nature of changes


Labor-related issues and impacts (including labor agreement requirements and possible staffing shortages)


Financial conditions and relationship to service adjustments (i.e. - did revenue shortfalls dictate service adjustments?)


Ridership impacts and relationship to service adjustments (i.e., did a service reduction result from the decline in ridership?)


Equity considerations, particularly as they relate to service design and delivery


Process changes and impacts, including policy-level approval protocols


Other relevant information such as the role of community engagement and workplace productivity impacts

2.   Identify 3-5 transit agencies for detailed case studies and conduct interviews and other information-gathering to gain detailed insights


Interview key internal and external stakeholders


Identify major administrative and operational issues and concerns before, during and after service adjustment process


Gather information detailing the service adjustment processes, timing, phasing, and internal and external responses


Summarize lessons learned and best practices

3.   Identify tools and techniques for transit agencies to increase flexibility and responsiveness regarding service provision

a.    Developing and deploying policy guidance for rapid response service adjustments

b. Integrating fixed route and on-demand services, including a full range of service planning and delivery considerations

   c.    Modifying service quickly and

based on real-time or historical ‘big data’

   d.    Implementing faster review and

approval processes


Finding creative solutions to labor contract requirements


Identifying approaches to engage employees, riders and stakeholders with extremely tight time constraints


Including equity and Title VI considerations into fast-track service planning


Communicating changes to customers efficiently and effectively

4.   Summarize opportunities and constraints, both internal and external—for implementing potential solutions and tools.

a.    What barriers exist to implementing the study products?

b.    What steps are proposed to lessen or overcome these barriers?

c.    What incentives exist for using study products?

d.    What tools and techniques are available to support allocation of funds and implementation of necessary improvements?

e.    What are the next steps building on this research?

The research plan should be divided into two phases, and each phase should be divided into tasks with a detailed description of the work proposed.  The research plan should build in appropriate interim deliverables that include, at a minimum, a detailed annotated outline of the resources forming the basis of the research, and an interim report at the end of Phase I that describes work done in early tasks and provides an updated work plan for the remaining tasks to be accomplished in Phase II.  Phase I should reflect approximately 30% to 50% of the overall scope of work and should address the initial and fundamental tasks contributing to the overall study outcome.  The TCRP panel will meet with the research team at the end of Phase I to review and approve the interim report prior to moving on to Phase II. 

Final deliverables will include at a minimum: (1) the products specified above (metrics, tools, strategies); (2) a final report that documents the entire research effort; (3) an executive summary as a stand-alone document that outlines the research findings and recommendations; (4) a presentation (e.g., a Microsoft® PowerPoint presentation, video, etc.) aimed at decision makers that simply and concisely explains why the application of the final deliverables is helpful and how it will be used, and (5) a stand-alone technical memorandum that describes how to implement the research findings, and any products that resulted, and how to use them.  

The research plan should build in appropriate checkpoints with the TCRP project panel including, at a minimum, (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date; (2) the face-to-face interim deliverable review meeting to be held at the end of Phase I; and (3) at least two additional web-enabled teleconferences tied to TCRP panel review and approval of any other interim deliverables as deemed appropriate.


Provide follow on case studies and tracking of the performance of the innovative service concepts defined in the guideance


As a result of its focus on supporting transit agencies in becoming more responsive, agile and multimodal, this problem statement links well to each of the five TCRP strategic priorities. The problem statement also ties in directly with FTA strategic research goals by supporting mobility innovation, with a focus on developing lessons learned and best practices for transit agencies in blending traditional fixed route service with on-demand services that can be shifted and modified quickly in response to changing consumer demand.

Sponsoring Committee:AP025, Public Transportation Planning and Development
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Todd Hemingson, AICP, Associate Vice President and Senior Transit Consultant at HDR (todd.hemingson@hdrinc.com; 512.369.6036) developed this problem statement in coordination with Li-Wei Tung, Ph.D., PTOE, Senior Transit Operations Planner & TSP Project Lead, Regional Transportation District and with the TRB AP025 Public Transportation Planning and Development Research Group.
Source Info:AP025 CRC sub-Committee
Date Posted:06/18/2020
Date Modified:06/25/2020
Index Terms:Mobility as a service, Paratransit services, Demand responsive transportation, Service disruption, Communicable diseases, COVID-19,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Public Transportation
Security and Emergencies
Passenger Transportation

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