Evaluating and Enhancing Public Transit Systems for Operational Efficiency, Service Quality and Access Equity

Ran Wei, University of Utah



Regular assessment and improvement of the performance of public transit systems are essential for transit service providers given limited funding and growing public needs. Performance evaluation can help transit agencies identify underperforming services, plan for potential investments, justify investments, and communicate accomplishments and challenges. However, the evaluation of transit system performance is complex and challenging due to the diverse and competing goals of a public transportation agency, such as improving operational efficiency, increasing service quality, and providing equitable and just transit services. To improve operational efficiency, transit agencies aim to achieve the highest ridership with the least operational costs; with the service quality goal, they are required to increase frequencies, reduce travel time, and improve reliability; whereas the equity objective mandates them to extend services to isolated neighborhoods with high concentration of minorities and low income residents. 

While previous work has examined public transit systems for these goals separately, the interplay of all three has not been investigated in research or practice. This is a significant gap in the literature and conceptualization of performance evaluation for public transit systems. First, operational efficiency, service quality and access equity are all critical to the well-being of a transit system. Second, these three goals are often at odds with each other as underperforming in costs/ridership may happen when transit is improving service quality, or achieving an important social goal of providing mobility to dependent populations, meaning that some intricate trade-off is needed to balance the efficiency of transit operations with service quality and equality. Third, efforts to explore trade-offs require specifically tailored modeling approaches. As a result, there is a need for techniques that can evaluate operational efficiency, service quality and equitable access holistically, providing a comprehensive assessment for transit system performance.

The proposed project will develop a comprehensive framework and an open-source toolbox for evaluating and enhancing the overall performance of public transit systems by using a combination of mathematical programming methods, GIS-based analysis and multi-objective spatial optimization techniques. This framework will enable operational efficiency, service quality, and access equity of transit systems to be assessed in an integrated manner, as well as identification of areas for improvement to better achieve these multi-dimensional objectives. The toolbox will operationalize the framework and make it accessible to transit planners, decision-makers and the public. We propose to test the framework and the toolbox in cooperation with project partners from the public transit systems operated by TriMet in Portland metropolitan area and UTA in Salt Lake City metropolitan area.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
December 31,2017
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 3
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • The manuscript has been revised and resubmitted to the Journal of Transport Geography on August 2, 2017 (PUBLICATION)
  • Evaluating Public Transit Services for Operational Efficiency and Access Equity (PRESENTATION)
  • Ran Wei & Tony H. Grubesic (2017): An Alternative Classification Scheme for Uncertain Attribute Mapping, The Professional Geographer, DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2017.1288573 (PUBLICATION)