The following excerpts are quoted verbatim from Report 20 of the Transit Cooperative Research Program sponsored by The Federal Transit Administration.
A variety of circumstances have converged in recent years which call for new, more effective means of evaluating investment and expenditures in basic public services . . .[especially] in the transportation sector. . . . . .
Several influences have fostered this interest:
- . . . [T]he Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) calls for a shift away from independent planning and investment for separate highway, transit, and rail systems, toward development of an integrated, multimodal system of services and facilities. . . .
- . . .[T]he Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA) call for . . . direct linkage between actions required to improve the nation’s air quality and the actions taken to enhance personal mobility and access.
- . . . [T]he Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 (ADA) alters the calculus by which transit investments are to be prioritized and carried out. . . . . .
- Government deficits and budget constraints at all levels continue to call into question the priorities for public investment generally. . . .
- Debate continues over the relevance, importance, and impact of alternative transportation investments and strategies, with much of the debate centered on the comparative effects and consequences of transit and highway investment. . . . . .
[T]ransit benefits are traditionally understated when the merits of investment alternatives are weighed, resulting in understated estimates of transit cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness. This shortcoming is magnified because of the added uncertainties in measuring transit benefits over the long term. As a result, incomplete and imprecise estimates of long-term benefits are typically evaluated against short-term costs, further distorting cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses applied to transit. . . . . . Inadequate attention is commonly paid to the comparative impacts of continued reliance on automobile-oriented investments and improvements. . . . [H]ighway projects and improvements may have cumulative consequences that are undesirable and unsustainable, while what appear to be questionable individual transit investments in the short term may be invaluable to the region over the long term. . . . . .
A Quality of Life Orientation
. . . . .[T]he new starting point for assessing transit benefits and disbenefits is the improvement in one’s quality of life, i.e., an attempt to make operational one of the most frequently referred-to “intangible” benefits of transit.1 . . . . .
■ Transit is increasingly perceived as a service that directly and indirectly influences how effectively the community achieves its broad goals.
Public transportation services and the rationales for investing in public transportation continue to evolve. Viewed in broad terms, transportation investment decisions made at the federal, state, and local levels have tended to support consistently the notion that the benefits of increased availability of and use of transit outweigh the disbenefits.
The ability to measure the magnitude of transit’s benefits and disbenefits, however, remains uneven and incomplete. . . . Nonetheless, public transit has become inextricably linked to the pursuit of an improved quality of life whose major dimensions are economic growth and prosperity, enhanced environmental quality, and improved personal safety and security. The mobility and access provided by various transit services tends to enable progress on each of these fundamental fronts.
■ Techniques for assessing the economic impacts of transit investment and use are not as well developed as techniques for assessing other related transit and transportation impacts.
The ability to measure the environmental and safety impacts of transit is far more advanced than the ability to assess transit’s broad-based, community-wide economic impacts. Similarly, the ability to forecast short-term impacts of alternative transportation investments is far greater than the ability to forecast long-term effects. In addition, more precise analytical procedures are available to assess the impacts of repair and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure than are available to assess the impacts of expanding the capacity of infrastructure, where the question of alternative courses of action are more complex. . . .
■ There are promising approaches emerging with varying levels of sophistication that can improve the assessment of transit’s long-term, region-wide economic impacts.
. . . . . Among the most useful are
- Emerging sketch-planning and spreadsheet models that are driven by the outputs of widely available, traditional transportation demand and cost models.
- Integrated transportation and economic models.
. . . . . The results of these analyses include annual and cumulative projections of population, employment, business sales, personal income, and government revenues and expenditures. These projections, in turn, allow estimates to be made of the dollar return to the regional and state economy for each dollar invested in the transit alternative being examined. In Philadelphia, the analysis indicated that the economic return to the region and the state would be over $9 for every dollar spent to fully rehabilitate and continue to operate the existing SEPTA system. Similar conclusions with somewhat smaller dollar-for-dollar returns were reached in the Chicago RTA analysis. To date, however, no comparable analyses have been carried out to assess the long-term economic impacts of major expansions to urban transit systems, or of major transit improvements in new urban areas.
■ The use of evolving multimodal spreadsheet models is best suited for communities and regions where transit plays a comparatively smaller role in serving regional travel needs, and where transit service is largely provided by bus and similar on-street shared-ride services.
The spreadsheet approach to analyzing transit’s economic impact in smaller, less transit-intense urban areas without fixed-guideway systems recognizes the facts that: (a) in these areas the economic consequences of transit investment may be subordinate to the social consequences; and (b) a significantly higher proportion of transit’s economic benefits will flow from changes in user costs rather than from nonuser impacts on the economy as a whole. . . . . .