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Research and Data Collection

The 2013 State RTAP Managers Survey indicated that about half of RTAP program managers collect data other than NTD data for their subrecipients (which is a requirement of the Section 5311 Program). The type of data collected varies by state, and includes financial and operational information. This is a list of some responses to our question, “What type of data do you collect?”

  • Ridership stats
  • Mileage stats
  • Cost/trip
  • Financial reports
  • FTA compliance information
  • Capital projects
  • Info for the transit directory
  • Other performance measures
  • Training registrations and results
  • Assets
  • Employee info
  • Languages spoken in transit areas
  • Vehicle inspection records
  • Transit agencies’ responses to customer comments

During a series of interviews, several RTAP managers noted that one of the main reasons they collect data, other than for compliance with state or federal regulations, is to assess the needs of subrecipients. Making decisions about training to be offered in the upcoming fiscal year, as well as development of an annual work plan, were two of the data uses mentioned. 

 

Collecting Data

States collect this data mainly with software programs, polls or surveys, and direct outreach. Several free and low-cost internet programs exist to make it easy to send out surveys to email lists. You can easily create surveys for free using a variety of tools including SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. The best way of communicating with your subrecipients to collect data will depend on the number and make-up of your state’s providers. States with a low number of subrecipients may be more likely to respond to a survey if it is presented informally, in an email, while states with many transit agencies may find they do not have the time to do this kind of targeted outreach. Getting out into the field on a regular basis is another method by which RTAP managers in Illinois, Mississippi, and other states collect data about subrecipient needs. 

 

Partnering with Universities for Research

Subrecipient data can be used in many applications, such as deciding where to spend funds and evaluating how programs are running. More specialized and comprehensive research projects that benefit state programs and their subrecipients have traditionally been undertaken by university research centers. For instance, CUTR, the Center for Urban Transportation Research, works closely with the Florida DOT to complete research projects beneficial to the transportation sector. (CUTR also fulfills the role of RTAP contractor.)

Types of projects that partner organizations such as universities could take on include research about how changes in legislation affect subrecipients, developing websites to disseminate information, and setting up call centers. The Illinois RTAP program (Rural Transit Assistance Center) partners with Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago to fulfill projects such as a call center for medical transportation and a website listing public and private providers by county. Funding is provided through FTA programs (in this case Job Access Reverse Commute and New Freedom), and the RTAP program provides the information that powers these services. 

 

Data Collection for Annual Reports and Workplans 

Sixty-five percent of RTAP managers indicated that data collection and research influenced their annual work plans. Many managers are required by their states to develop an annual work plan, which usually includes a description of current program activities, how the RTAP program carries them out, new programs and services for the upcoming year, as well as how funds will be spent. Your state DOT will specify the format of the annual work plan. View examples of annual work plans.

 

NTD Data

As the RTAP Manager, you are not likely to be responsible for collecting National Transit Database (NTD) data, but you should be aware that under the 5311 program, the state is required to submit this data to the Rural NTD on behalf of subrecipients. Generally, the 5311 manager is in charge of this, but you may also participate in data collection or technical assistance in this area.