Planning and Evaluation


In this section, we will discuss two fundamental components of operations:  planning and evaluating the services rural transit agencies provide to the community.  This section touches on strategic planning, service planning, and required planning, providing information and guidance, from effective ways to engage the community to methods for evaluating services.  It also introduces planning concerns regarding vehicles, technology, facilities, sustainability, and fare policies.

We also recommend reading these related National RTAP Technical Briefs: 

This section of the toolkit is organized into the following subsections:

Strategic Planning

According to an article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Business and Management, strategic planning is “a deliberative, disciplined effort to produce decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization… is, what it does, and why it does it.”  It is commonly used by private and public entities to actively guide future activities and direction, rather than simply having to react to what may occur. In the context of public agencies, strategic planning activities typically include:

  • Preparing for strategic planning by identifying what elements should be included, the timeline for completion, and the identification of stakeholders who should be included in the process
  • Identifying the mission, vision, values, and goals of the agency. This step should include clarifying any applicable legal statutes or mandates
  • Conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to assess both the external and internal environments
  • Identifying and analyzing issues that face the agency and identifying potential strategies to address these issues
  • Assessing the feasibility of the strategies developed using reasonable criteria
  • Incorporating the strategies deemed feasible into agency plans
  • Implementing agency plans to achieve the desired outcomes
  • Evaluating, monitoring, and updating the plan as results become available
  • Reassessing strategies and the strategic planning process on a regular basis

TCRP Synthesis 59, Strategic Planning and Management in Transit Agencies, examines the practice of strategic planning and management in the transit industry and presents a literature review, a survey of transit agencies, and case studies regarding the practice. The report found that some form of strategic planning was used by over 80% of the transit agencies randomly sampled for the project and cited the following internal strategic planning benefits:

  • Creating a new organizational vision
  • Helping an agency become more customer-oriented
  • Creating better alignment between the board, management, and staff
  • Aiding in decision-making and priority setting
  • Establishing budget priorities
  • Redirecting staffing levels
  • Creating more effective workflows
  • Restructuring services

The same report cited the following external strategic planning benefits:

  • Increased external stakeholder awareness, input, and support
  • Helpful for obtaining additional funding
  • Helpful for defining an agency’s core role and responsibilities to the community

Even if an agency does not participate in a formal strategic planning process, management will need to work with the Board of Directors and/or State Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine the service and project priorities for the system. The development of a vision and mission statement can help provide this direction. To read more about mission statements, see the Mission and Leadership section of this toolkit.   Strategic planning should also feed into budget development (addressed in the Budget and Finance 101 section of this toolkit).

Technical and financial resources to help rural transit agencies develop strategic plans may be available through the State Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP). As part of the federal Section 5311 program, each state is allocated a specific funding level each year to provide training and technical assistance for rural transportation providers. State RTAP programs typically involve a mix of training opportunities and agency-specific technical assistance. If a transit agency would like to explore the resources available to conduct a strategic plan, the State DOT is a good first contact to discuss what options may be available at little or no cost to the agency.

National RTAP completed its biennial survey of rural and tribal transit managers in 2020. A summary of survey data is provided. The report summarizes types of services provided, funding sources, use of technology in operations and compliance, training requirements, and the impact of COVID-19 on operations.  This data may be helpful for agencies to use in the development of their own plans.

Community Stakeholders

An important step in the strategic planning process is to fully understand the community’s needs. To do this, an agency must become part of the community rather than just serving it.  John Martin, in the National RTAP technical brief “Make Business Part of Rural Transit’s Business: How to Form Strategic Business Partnerships,” explains that it is imperative for transit agencies to reach out to an often-overlooked stakeholder group:  the business community.  According to John Martin, the business community includes individual companies and business organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce.  Public transit connects local businesses to workers and customers, and establishing a partnership between transit agencies and businesses can benefit all parties involved.      

To read more about public transit and the business community, see the National RTAP technical brief Make Business Part of Rural Transit’s Business: How to Form Strategic Business Partnerships by John Martin and his recorded webinar (11/19/10) on the topic.

Additional important stakeholders for rural transit agencies are human service agency representatives, whose clients depend upon the services provided by rural public transportation programs.  These agencies may serve senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people without access to personal transportation.

Transportation Advisory Committees

Community stakeholders are often called upon to serve on transportation advisory committees (TACs), which are formally appointed groups that typically advise local elected officials on transportation needs within the community. Committee members speak on behalf of their stakeholder groups to give feedback as to whether the transit system is providing appropriate service for the community. There is generally an application/appointment process, and each member has a defined term of service. TACs generally meet quarterly, though some may meet more frequently if specific initiatives are under development. Effective Transportation Advisory Committees: Creating a Group that Reflects all Community Voices, a resource developed in 2012 by Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA), offers tools and guidelines for establishing and maintaining a transportation advisory committee to help guide transportation programs.

Relationship to Service Planning

Strategic planning activities serve to provide transit agencies with a road map to guide them as their communities change over time. This road map provides the structure for service planning activities, which are described in the next section.

Service Planning

The first step in service planning is taking inventory of available resources and the transit needs of the community.  Once the agency knows what funding, vehicles/facilities/equipment, and staff are available, and the services currently provided, the transit manager or planner can match those resources and services with the transportation needs of the community.  If the organization has conducted a strategic planning process, it will have a clear mission statement and list of system priorities.  The services provided should match those values and fulfill the mission of the organization.   In addition, many State DOTs have statewide planning priorities, guidelines for the types of activities they will fund, and performance measures that they use to determine a service or project’s effectiveness.  Choosing services and projects that both fill transit needs in the community and align with the statewide planning priorities/guidelines will ensure that the transit agency is providing necessary services that will be supported by the state. 

Public Involvement

In addition to stakeholder involvement, which was discussed above within the context of strategic planning, obtaining public input is also an important step in the planning process.  Public input provides concrete direction regarding what transit services are needed and will likely be used. Transit agencies use a variety of methods to obtain public input, including passenger surveys, community surveys, focus groups, and public meetings.

Passenger Surveys

An effective way to find out what the public desires is to simply ask them! There are various ways to ask riders what they want, including on board paper or electronic surveys, online surveys and telephone surveys.  Before conducting a survey, establish what specific information is desired from passengers as this will determine the questions asked. Passenger surveys can be used to gather information for a number of planning purposes, including collecting data for a specific service initiative (i.e., should the agency add service on Saturdays?), understanding rider trip characteristics and determining rider satisfaction. The following are examples of questions that can be asked in a passenger survey:

  • What is the purpose of the passenger’s trip?
  • What is the passenger’s origin and destination, and how many transfers will they have to make to complete the trip?
  • How did the passenger pay his/her fare?
  • How often does the passenger use public transit?
  • How did the passenger get to the bus stop?  How will the passenger get to his/her final destination after getting off the bus?
  • How long did the passenger wait for the bus?
  • Why did the passenger choose to take public transit and how would they have completed the trip otherwise?
  • What time of the day does the passenger usually ride the bus?
  • What is the passenger’s income?  Do they own an automobile?
  • How would the passenger like to receive information from the transit system?
  • What service changes would be the most helpful?

Responses to questions like these can help a transit system determine common paths of travel, the number of internal and external transfers, whether fare cards or passes are being utilized or are needed, on-time performance, number of choice riders, needs for route changes or extensions, and how to best conduct outreach to customers.  A transit system can also ask survey respondents to rate their satisfaction with the agency’s services.

Passengers can also be given surveys onboard the bus using a paper system that allows the rider to fill out a hard copy form. The passenger can leave the survey on the bus or mail it back to the transit system.  Passengers can also complete an interview survey, with an interviewer asking the questions and recording the answers. on a mobile device.  Having the interviewer use this technology allows for location data to be tracked, as well as the opportunity to create an audio recording of the passengers’ answers.  A spoken survey also facilitates participation by passengers with low literacy. 

Regardless of the medium used, limit the survey to the necessary questions to ensure passengers return completed surveys in a timely manner.  Asking too many questions can cause passengers to return an incomplete survey or not return the survey at all.  The Transit Performance Monitoring System (TPMS) Results report, by McCollom Management Consulting for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), found that it was more effective to survey passengers on-board than over the telephone and that well-trained surveyors generally yielded a good survey response rate, regardless of the survey method chosen.

To read more about how a transit system used mobile devices to conduct an on-board survey, see the project results presentation, Transit, Technology and Public Participation, by Jeremy Mattson and Del Peterson at the Small Urban and Rural Transit Center.  

For more information about conducting on-board survey using paper forms, see the Transit Performance Monitoring System (TPMS) Results report.

Community Surveys

The increased availability of electronic survey media options over the past several years has made it relatively easy and inexpensive to conduct community surveys. These types of surveys are used to obtain information from community members who may not use the public transit system on a regular basis or to help determine the feasibility of starting a new service. Community surveys are helpful in gauging support and awareness of the transit program, as well learning what types of transit services would be needed to attract new riders to the service.

Focus Groups and Public Meetings

Focus groups and public meetings are useful public outreach tools to use when specific service proposals are in the review stage. Presenting service proposals to the public in an interactive setting allows people to better understand the proposals, which can result in insightful comments and suggestions from potential riders. Public meetings are also required in certain circumstances, including as part of some of the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (see below).

Public Involvement and Title VI Requirements

Not only is public involvement a good business practice, but it is also a requirement if a transit agency receives federal funds.  As stated in the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Title VI circular (FTA C 4702.1B, Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients), all recipients of federal funding are required to comply with the public participation requirements of 49 U.S.C. Sections 5307(b) (requires programs of projects to be developed with public participation) which reads:

5307 (b)

Program of Projects. Each recipient of a grant shall—

(1) make available to the public information on amounts available to the recipient under this section;

(2) develop, in consultation with interested parties, including private transportation providers, a proposed program of projects for activities to be financed;

(3) publish a proposed program of projects in a way that affected individuals, private transportation providers, and local elected officials have the opportunity to examine the proposed program and submit comments on the proposed program and the performance of the recipient;

(4) provide an opportunity for a public hearing in which to obtain the views of individuals on the proposed program of projects;

(5) ensure that the proposed program of projects provides for the coordination of public transportation services assisted under section 5336 of this title with transportation services assisted from other United States Government sources;

(6) consider comments and views received, especially those of private transportation providers, in preparing the final program of projects; and

(7) make the final program of projects available to the public.

As part of the Section 5311 subrecipient grant application process, State DOTs typically require a public participation process that addresses the above requirements, including consultation with private operators and a public hearing (or opportunity for one upon request) about the proposed grant application.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. Subrecipients of FTA funding are required to prepare and submit a Title VI program that includes a public participation plan, as summarized in the Civil Rights section of this toolkit and detailed in the FTA Circular.  According to the Title VI Circular, public participation plans must include “an outreach plan to engage minority and limited English proficiency populations, as well as a summary of outreach efforts made.”  This plan does not have to be limited to minority populations alone and it can include outreach to other traditionally underserved groups such as low-income populations, people with disabilities, and others.  When developing a public participation plan, an agency has the ability to develop policies appropriate to current projects and the community, but public involvement is always required when developing new programs or projects.

The Title VI circular also states that grant recipients are required to comply with the public participation requirements of 49 U.S.C. Section 5307(c)(1)(I) (requires a locally developed process to consider public comment before raising a fare or carrying out a major reduction in transportation service), and some states extend this requirement to their Section 5311 subrecipients.

There are additional Title VI considerations for service planning. Services must be provided in a non-discriminatory manner, with services equitably provided to minority populations.  All FTA funded transit systems that operate fixed route services must establish system-wide service standards and policies.   

For more information about Title VI requirements, see the Civil Rights section of this toolkit and the Title VI Circular.  FTA’s Environmental Justice Circular also gives information about designing an outreach strategy for environmental justice populations in a community.  More about Environmental Justice is also found in the Civil Rights section in this toolkit.

An important element of public involvement is public notification.  National RTAP’s 2019 What Transit Agencies Need to Inform the Public About Before Making Changes technical brief provides a checklist of activities that trigger the need for public notification.

Required Planning

Several State DOTs require local transit agencies to develop multi-year plans, both as a function of their role in oversight of these agencies and as a way to help plan their own multi-year budgets. Federal rural public transportation funds are administered through the states, which means that State DOTs must weigh the needs of all of their local transit grantees in the annual budget process.  Having multi-year plans in place for local transit programs gives DOTs an idea of the level of investment that is likely to be needed for each of their grantees for several budget years. These plans are typically called transit development plans (TDPs) or short-range transit plans.

Transit Development Plans

A Transit Development Plan (TDP) is a short-range plan that reviews and updates a transit agency's goals, evaluates the existing conditions and needs, and identifies ways to meet near-term and long-term needs and goals. A TDP will typically include recommendations with regard to the:

  • Services the agency intends to operate
  • Capital that will be required
  • Multi-year budget estimates

The planning horizon for a TDP is typically between five and ten years.

State DOTs often will fund the development of these plans. For example, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, TDPs are required for local grantees and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) has a standard outline for the structure of the plans.  DRPT hires professional planning firms to conduct the technical work for these studies, which are guided by the local transit agencies. The Maryland Transit Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Public Transportation Division, also conduct local transit planning efforts in a similar manner, as do many other State DOTs.

Coordinated Public Transit Human Services Transportation Plans

In addition to state-specific planning requirements, FTA has planning requirements associated with its Section 5310 grant program.  The following excerpt from the FTA Section 5310 web page summarizes the requirements to develop a coordinated public transit- human services transportation plan, a requirement of the grant program:

“Federal transit law requires that projects selected for funding under the Enhanced Mobility for Individuals and Individuals with Disabilities (Section 5310) Program be "included in a locally developed, coordinated public transit-human services transportation plan," and that the plan be "developed and approved through a process that included participation by seniors, individuals with disabilities, representatives of public, private, and nonprofit transportation and human services providers and other members of the public" utilizing transportation services. These coordinated plans identify the transportation needs of individuals with disabilities, older adults, and people with low incomes, provide strategies for meeting these needs, and prioritize transportation services for funding and implementation.”

Details about what must be included in this plan can be found in the Section 5310 circular.

Many State DOTs have assisted counties and local regions to develop and update these coordinated plans. Technical assistance in developing these plans can also be found through FTA’s Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility web site.

Service Options

Decisions about what types of services provided by the transit agency will be based on the information gathered during the inventory of resources and public outreach.  This section will describe each of the basic service types—fixed route, flexible route, and demand response service—and will provide guidance about when each service type should be used.  There are different Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements associated with each type of service, and for more information about that topic see the ADA section of this toolkit as well as the ADA Toolkit.

Fixed Route 

According to National RTAP’s Scheduling and Dispatching for Rural Transit Systems training module, fixed route services are “services provided on a repetitive, fixed schedule basis along a specific route with vehicles stopping to pick up and deliver passengers to specific locations.  Each fixed route service trip serves the same origins and destinations.”  This type of service is typically provided by urban systems and funded through the FTA Section 5307 Urbanized Area Formula Program, although rural systems may also provide fixed route service.  A general rule of thumb is that fixed route services can be effective in areas with population densities of over 2,000 people per square mile.

Flexible Route

Common service types in rural areas that are not strictly “fixed” are route deviation and point deviation.  For route deviation service, the bus may deviate from the scheduled route to stop at locations within a defined distance (for example, ¾ mile or 2 blocks) of the route.  When this is done, the bus must return to the route where it deviated to continue service.  For a route with point deviation service, there are scheduled stops at mandatory times, but the bus is free to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere within a prescribed radius as long as they reach the mandatory stops at the required times.  Flexible routes are appropriate in areas where there is some clustering of origins and destinations, but not a high enough population density to support fixed route services.

TCRP Report 6, Users’ Manual for Assessing Service-Delivery Systems for Rural Passenger Transportation, states that route deviated services work well when the following is true:  

  • The deviations are a relatively small part of the overall demand and the overall running time of the route
  • The majority of the riders are not time-sensitive
  • Door-to-door service is important to some, but not all, passengers
  • There are other positive reasons for providing services that are more like fixed route than demand response services

TCRP Report 6 also states that route deviated service does not work well if the following is true:

  • Most of the trips are time sensitive
  • Some sort of route structure is not desirable for the community

In regard to point deviation services, TCRP Report 6 states that these services are more similar to demand response service, and that “point deviation services may be preferable to route deviation services in rural areas because the routes between checkpoints can be flexible, allowing the driver more routing options for maintaining the schedule, and requests for service can be negotiated or deferred so that the schedule is maintained.”

When designing flexible services, such as route and point deviation services, transit agencies must ensure that ADA requirements are met.

Chapter 3 of TCRP Report 6 Users’ Manual for Assessing Service Delivery Systems for Rural Passenger Transportation goes into great detail about how to choose the appropriate service type. 

To read more about route and point deviated services, see TCRP Report 140, A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services and TCRP Synthesis 53, Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. 

More information about fixed route services can be found in Best Practices in Transit Service Planning, a resource by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida (USF).

Demand Response

According to National RTAP’s Scheduling and Dispatching training module, demand response service is “characterized by the fact that vehicles that do not operate over a fixed route or on a fixed schedule.”  Because they do not operate on a fixed route or schedule, passengers must request a trip by contacting the transit agency.  This training module also divides demand response services into these four categories: 

  • Many origins - Many destinations 
  • Many origins - One destination
  • One origin - Many destinations 
  • One origin - One destination

There are a variety of ways in which transit systems provide these services:  reservation service, subscription service, ADA complementary paratransit service, taxicab service, vanpool service, carpool service, volunteer drivers, and transportation network companies (TNCs, such as Lyft or Uber).  

For more information about the categories and delivery methods above, see the National RTAP Scheduling and Dispatching training module.

For more information on ADA complementary paratransit service, see the ADA section of this toolkit.

TCRP Report 6 breaks demand response services into three different categories:  subscription services (a rider requests a repetitive ride), advanced reservation (a rider requests one particular ride ahead of time) and real time scheduling (a rider calls to request the service just before the ride is needed).   

TCRP Report 6 states that demand response subscription service works well in the following situations:

  • Travelers are relatively clustered around the same origins and destinations
  • The demand for trips is once or twice a day (not all day long)
  • The same persons take the same trips (that is, the same origins and destinations at the same times) on a frequent, regular basis, but the level of demand is not high enough to justify fixed route or fixed schedule service
  • Travel demand densities are relatively low

TCRP Report 6 states that demand response advanced reservation service works well in the following situations: 

  • The trips are not taken on a regular pattern (such as those on subscription services)
  • Ride sharing is used to reduce the cost per trip for each passenger
  • Overall demand levels are low and trip origins are dispersed

TCRP Report 6 states that demand response real-time scheduling works well in the following situations:

  • Highly personalized services are appropriate
  • Service needs are immediate
  • Door-to-door services are desired
  • Origins and destinations are variable and do not necessarily fit any preestablished patterns
  • Demand densities are not very low and trip distances are not very long

Real-time scheduling is sometimes used in conjunction with advance reservation demand response service, such as when a system uses “will-calls,” meaning that once the rider has been dropped off at their destination, they “will-call” when they are ready to be picked-up for their ride home.

TCRP Report 6, Users’ Manual for Assessing Service Delivery Systems for Rural Passenger Transportation, Chapter 3, gives great detail about how to choose the appropriate service type and the advantages and disadvantages of each service type.

TCRP Report 136, Guidebook for Rural Demand Response Transportation:  Measuring, Assessing and Improving Performance, lists factors that influence rural demand response performance over which a transit manager has direct influence. These are: 

  • Vehicle operators
  • Operating staff- scheduler, dispatch and operations supervisor
  • Scheduling/dispatch
  • Certain operating policies
  • Vehicles
  • Administrative expenses
  • Safety

To view the details of this list, see TCRP Report 136.

Choosing Vehicles

Rural transit programs typically operate fleets that may include the following types of vehicles:

  • Accessible vans
  • Modified mini-vans
  • Light transit vehicles, including a number of different sizes

Larger buses and specialty vehicles may also be included in some fleets, depending upon the services provided by the agency.

There are several factors to consider when choosing vehicles for a fleet. Within the Ohio DOT’s Vehicle Catalog & Selection Guide for local transit programs, the following considerations are listed:

  • Capacity needs/safety
  • Client needs/comfort
  • Purchase price
  • Type of service/environment
  • Operating and preventive maintenance cost
  • Future needs
  • Regulatory requirements
  • ADA requirements
  • Ability to train or hire drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

While the Ohio guide is geared to transit providers within the state, sections on legislation, regulations, and accessibility are useful and applicable across the country.

Interest in alternative fueled vehicles has grown among rural transit agencies in recent years. National RTAP’s Alternative Fuels Topic Guide provides links to numerous resources on this topic.

Communications and Technology

The area of communications and technology in public transportation is continually evolving. The most basic communication and technology need in public transportation is making sure customers have a way to get in touch with the transit agency and staff have a way to reach drivers while they are on the road (and vice versa).

Typical devices used to communicate with drivers while they are in-service include the following:

  • Two-way radios
  • Cellular phones
  • Mobile data computers/terminals (MDC or MDT)
  • Tablets

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology is also becoming commonly used, particularly in association with MDCs and tablets. This technology allows people to see where each of the vehicles are throughout a service area.

It should be noted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles are restricted from holding a mobile device to make a call, or dialing by pressing more than a single button. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are permitted to use a hands-free phone located in close proximity.

The following factors should be considered when choosing communications and technology devices and tools:

  • What level of sophistication is right for the agency?
  • Does the agency have in-house technical expertise to keep MDCs and tablets operating effectively?
  • What is the geographic range for various technologies in the service area? Are there dead areas for either two-way radios or cellular phones?
  • Is there a need to extract data from the communication device (i.e., MDCs and tablets can be used for multiple data collection purposes).
  • Does the agency use paper or electronic driver manifests (i.e., daily assignments for each driver, such as passenger pick-up and drop-off details for demand response drivers, and route assignments for fixed-route drivers)?

The National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM) provides links to additional information about transit technology, as does the National Center for Applied Transit Technology.

Note that any FTA-funded intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology must be consistent with and conform to the National ITS Architecture, as well as to U.S. DOT-adopted ITS Standards.  ITS projects and programs are also required to be a part of a locally approved Regional ITS Architecture.  More information about this requirement is available on the FTA website.

Facilities Planning

There are several types of facilities that may be needed for a transit program, depending upon the size, organizational arrangements, and complexity of service. These include the following:

  • Administrative/operations center (or office)
  • Vehicle maintenance garage
  • Vehicle storage area
  • Passenger facilities, such as transfer facilities, bus stops, and shelters

At the very minimum, a transit agency is likely to need secure vehicle parking and the use of an office. When planning to construct a new vehicle storage facility, maintenance facility, or operations center is required to conduct a Title VI equity analysis during the planning stage with regard to the location of the facility.  For more information, see the FTA Title VI Circular (C 4702.1B, pages III-11 to III-12).

The following resources address various elements of facilities planning for rural and small urban transit providers:


Sustainability is an important consideration in service planning, strategic planning, and budget development. The Rural Transportation Toolkit, published online by the Rural Health Information Hub includes a module on sustainability.  This module covers the following topics:

  • The importance of sustainability planning
  • Transportation program sustainability strategies
  • Federal agencies and programs that provide funding for transportation
  • Foundations working on rural transportation issues
  • Partnerships

This module discusses the following key issues to consider when planning for sustainability:

  • Planning for the continued engagement of stakeholders and partners
  • Considering what contributions stakeholders can make
  • Monitoring population demographics and trends in the community
  • Considering what fees may be appropriate for service
  • Tracking the impact of the program
  • Leveraging human, financial, and in-kind resources from the community.

Fare Policies

The development of fare policies for rural transportation programs typically considers the following factors:

  • How much can the rider afford to pay?
  • Is there a fare recovery goal? (i.e. a certain percentage of the overall costs that are expected to be covered by rider fares). According to the 2020 Rural Transit Fact Book, which reports 2018 NTD data, the average farebox recovery for rural transit systems was 9%.
  • How much money is needed from farebox revenue? What are the other funding sources?
  • How much do peer agencies charge?
  • What is the mode of service? (i.e. demand response, deviated fixed route, fixed route)
  • Will there be a differential based on distance traveled or time of day?
  • Does the agency wish to incentive ridership through fare policy? (this would apply to agencies considering fare-free programs)
  • Are there local political policies that may affect fare policy?

There are several TCRP publications that discuss various aspects of fare policy as well as fare collection and payment options. These can be found in the APTA TCRP publications catalog.


Coordination allows service providers to leverage all of the resources in a community to increase mobility for everyone.  For more information, see the Coordination and Mobility Management section of the toolkit.

Monitoring and Evaluation 

A community’s needs and resources are always changing.  In order to ensure that services are as appropriate today as they were yesterday, it is important to have a system for monitoring and evaluation.   

Transit Performance Measurement, a document adapted from a former National Transit Institute (NTI) course entitled Improving Transit System Performance: Using Information Based Strategies, identified these six steps in the performance evaluation process:

  1. Establish goals and objectives - While goals can be general, it is important to identify measurable objectives with collectable data.
  2. Select performance indicators - Choose indicators that are commonly understood, to allow comparison with other systems, and that can be calculated easily.  Choose what part of the service each indicator will measure (for example, will it measure overall performance or performance on a specific aspect?).  Decide how frequently to measure performance.  
  3. Collect and tabulate data - Ensure that all data are collected and analyzed consistently.
  4. Analyze and interpret indicators - There are three approaches for analyzing results:  compare against the agency’s own data over time; compare against peer systems; compare against industry norms/standards.  The most complete performance evaluation will include all three approaches.    
  5. Present the results - It is important to present the results in a way that is clear and can be understood by agency staff as well as outside constituencies.  Graphical presentations can increase clarity and understanding. 
  6. Take corrective actions and monitor results - The last, and most important, step is to use the results of the evaluation to make changes to the system to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

This process should be repeated on a regular, scheduled interval.  

Another important method for collecting service evaluation data is having a manager ride the bus.  This allows the manager to see first-hand the condition of the buses and shelters, how the driver interacts with passengers, passenger behavior on the bus, the sections of a route that carry the most riders, whether the bus runs on schedule, and the overall experience of using the service.  While it does take time out of a manager’s day to ride the bus, it is a valuable tool for assessing the quality of the service the agency is providing.

Other resources on transit performance measurement include:

Innovative Approaches

Transit managers seeking new ideas for innovative rural transit services and creative problem solving can learn from the following resources:

  • Progressive Rural Transit Services Offer Lessons in Mobility, Access for All, Metro Magazine  – This November 2019 article highlights innovative approaches by Greenway Public Transportation (Conover, North Carolina), the Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program of Washington State Department of Transportation (providing four intercity bus routes across the state), the South Central Tennessee Development District Mule Town Trolley Service (Mount Pleasant, Tennessee), and Kayak Public Transit (Pendleton, Oregon).
  • National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Research Report 861: Best Practices in Rural Regional Mobility – This research report discusses the roles of state transit program policies and regional planning agencies in developing rural regional public transit services and shares 12 case studies (from California, Colorado, Iowa , Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin).  The report provides a checklist for developing a rural regional route.
  • Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 94: Innovative Rural Transit Services – This synthesis of transit practice showcases innovations of four rural transit agencies (in Idaho, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation.
  • Rural Health Information Hub’s Transportation to Support Rural Healthcare – Models and Innovations web page  – This web page compiles reports on projects to provide innovative rural transportation practices to support rural resident access to health care. 

Section Sources

Updated November 18, 2020