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Overview of State Implementation of the Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5311(f) Rural Intercity Bus Program

Description:

State departments of transportation have had to address the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5311(f) program of assistance for rural intercity bus services. This aspect of the overall Section 5311 rural public transit assistance program includes a minimum 15% set-aside for rural intercity bus projects, unless the state certifies that there are no unmet intercity needs. If a state considers certifying that there is no unmet need, it must conduct a federally compliant consultation process. These long-standing requirements were included in the federal CARES Act program addressing the impact of the coronavirus on transit services, leading to a policy discussion in many states about the Section 5311(f) program. Many states have sought information about how other states are implementing this program as they consider their own programs and potential changes.

While all state programs must implement their intercity bus programs within the guidance provided by FTA in the circular, states have used the flexibility that is also part of this program to develop and implement a number of different models. Many states have developed separate application procedures for intercity bus. Some allow the applicants to define the services, others specify the routes and services to be implemented. Some states act as the grant recipient and contract for operation by bus operators acting as third-party contractors, others provide grants to the firms. The FTA guidance permits states to use the value of connecting unsubsidized intercity bus services as in-kind match for operations, and a number of states have taken advantage of this to develop services that are connected to the unsubsidized network. Some states have developed separate branding for their funded services (e.g. “Travel Washington”, “POINT”, “Bustang Outrider”, “Virginia Breeze”, etc.).

State program managers are becoming aware of the various approaches and are seeking information about what other states are doing. A survey of technical assistance and research needs was conducted by the National Rural Technical Assistance Program (NRTAP) and the TRB Rural, Intercity and Specialized Transportation Program (AP055) in February of this year, and respondents (including states, transit systems and intercity providers) listed information about state implementation of this program was identified as a key research need.

Objective:

The purpose of this synthesis would be to conduct a survey of the state intercity bus programs to identify the basic characteristics of each, and then do more in-depth research on a limited number that would provide more information on a variety of models.

The synthesis is intended to gather this information from as many of the state intercity bus programs as possible:

· Does the state utilize the full 15% Section 5311(f) set aside? Or does it certify that there are no unmet intercity needs, or do a partial certification (and under what circumstances)?

· Please describe the state’s intercity bus Consultation Process. Is it described in the state’s Section 5311 State Management Plan? Is it a letter/survey of existing carriers, a meeting, part of a study?

· Is Section 5311(f) funding provided through a grant or under a contract issued as part of an RFP process?

· If an RFP/Contract, what is the term, how often are they rebid?

· If a grant, are they renewed with an annual (or biannual) application process?

· Are there unique state laws or state management plan guidelines impacting the contracting process? (i.e. prohibitions regarding contracting with private companies, limitations on use of funds, etc.)

· Are there multiple contracts or grants, with different contracts for different routes? Or one agreement for all routes in the program?

· What is the source of match? For operating projects?—State funds? Local funds? Carrier funds? Or Section 5311(f) in-kind match from connecting unsubsidized service? Some combination? For capital projects? Is it different for vehicles and other capital (stations/shelters, etc.)

· Is the basis of the contract or grant for operating assistance, contract or grant a cost per mile (times the number of bus-miles operated in the project), or is it a line item line item budget (with amounts for each budget line-item such as labor, fuel, administration, etc.)

· Is all of the funding used for operating assistance? Or is there some for capital, or some for marketing or planning?

· What kind of intercity bus planning is conducted? Is there a statewide intercity bus plan, is it part of an overall statewide transit plan, or are there regional or route level plans?

· How are decisions made regarding expansion of funded services? Criteria, process?

· How are decisions made regarding eliminating funding for particular services? Are there performance criteria?

· Who are the operators of Section 5311(f) services in the state? Are they private for-profit firms, public transit providers, private non-profit? Please provider carrier names associated with particular routes or services.

· Please provide a map or description of the state’s intercity bus network, showing Section 5311(f) routes (and unsubsidized, if possible), and/or a brief description of services funded. This could be link to something on-line.

· How does the state define a meaningful connection with the national network of intercity bus services?

· Has the state established any branding for the funded services? For all services? By route? Explain or describe.

· How is marketing supported and information provided?

· Are any particular amenities such as bicycle racks, wi-fi, shelters, etc. required?

· Are fare levels determined in some way by the state, or does the contractor set the level and structure?

· Does the state require the contractor to provide GTFS data on the services?

· Is there any particular coordination with local or regional transit? Use of public park and rides, intermodal centers, etc. ?

Related Research:

Many states have done statewide studies and plans which could provide supplemental information about their programs. Previous work that is similar to that described here, but is both out of date and more in depth includes TCRP Report 79, Effective Approaches to Meeting Rural Intercity Bus Transportation Needs, which included a comprehensive look at the options available to the states and how they were implementing them. That study was part of the Fiscal 1999 TCRP program, published in 2002. In November of 2011, NCHRP published Research Results Digest 356, _Analysis of State Rural Intercity Bus Strategies: Requirements for Utilization of S. 5311(f) Funding, based upon the state programs of 2010.

Tasks:

While the researchers might well develop their own approach to data collection, the approach outlined here uses an e-mailed survey of all the states followed by telephone interviews with a subset of respondents,

Under this approach, each state department of transportation will be contacted, if possible, with e-mails to the transit program manager and/or the person responsible for the intercity bus program. An explanatory e-mail will be sent, with a link to an open-ended survey form in system such as SurveyMonkey or similar, with a closing date. If there is no response, a follow-up email with the link would be sent, and then a phone call made to determine if the survey was received and if a response might be forthcoming.

From the responses, follow-up interviews would be conducted to provide more in-depth information on no more than seven programs, chosen to illustrate various approaches that have combined different elements. The follow up interviews would focus on validating the survey responses and then identifying the benefits and issues related to particular implementation strategies.

Analysis of responses would then lead the study team to suggest and define additional research needs.

Sponsoring Committee:AP055, Rural, Intercity Bus, and Specialized Transportation
Research Period:6 - 12 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Fred Fravel
Source Info:AP055
Date Posted:05/07/2021
Date Modified:05/28/2021
Index Terms:Implementation, U.S. Federal Transit Administration, Rural transportation, Bus transportation, Intercity bus lines, Intercity transportation, Transportation policy,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Subjects    
Public Transportation
Planning and Forecasting
Passenger Transportation
Policy

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