Data Practices Chapter 5 – Partnerships

  • Date: February 7, 2022

Many small agencies do not have the resources to collect or analyze all the data they need to. Partnerships with other organizations— another transit agency, a non-profit, a state agency, a business, local community college/university, or other entity—can help. These engagements can provide access to novel datasets, help analyze data for decision-making, and share useful technology. Data can also strengthen existing relationships and support new ones.

Through partnerships, agencies can capitalize on the collective knowledge of the industry and their respective regions.

Partnerships broaden an agency’ s capabilities to collect, analyze, and share data, creating better services and increasing efficiency.

Partnerships Providing Access to Data:

Local School Districts

Schools can provide information on where students live and school bell times so agencies can plan services to meet demand. They can also provide information on important student demographics.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)

MPOs (and Regional Planning Agencies) can provide a host of datasets to aid in decision-making and planning, including demographic data, employment data, travel data, future projections, and infrastructure data. They can also assist with data collection.

Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities can provide assistance with data collection as well as information on class times and locations of off-campus student apartments so agencies can plan services that adequately meet demand.

State Departments of Transportation ( DOTs)

State DOTs can provide datasets on roadway infrastructure and often maintain travel surveys that can provide additional context for agencies when service planning.

Municipal Departments

Municipal Departments can provide access to local demographic and infrastructure data to help agencies with decision-making and planning.

Other Transit Agencies

Other transit agencies can provide ridership information at connection points to help agencies plan connecting services and also pool resources to purchase new data collection technologies more efficiently.

Major Employers

Employers can provide information on shift start and end times and approximate employee home locations so agencies can plan services that adequately meet demand.

These findings are from the Data Practices Guidebook. The Guidebook is a resource to assist small urban, rural, and tribal transit agencies in understanding and applying good data practices.



Partnerships for Data Analysis and Technology:

Municipal Departments

Municipal departments can provide IT assistance and work with agencies to create mobile apps or web interfaces to display data such as real-time vehicle locations.

Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities can provide assistance with developing mobile apps and other interfaces to display agency data to the public.

Other Transit Agencies

Other transit agencies can share programming language used to create mobile apps or other interfaces and can do joint procurements for new technologies.

Using Data to Build Partnerships:

Ridership and Performance Data

Data analysis can help justify service partnerships with local funding partners or justify on-demand services.

Transit Demand

Transit agencies can analyze transit demand to see where partnerships with TNCs or mobility-on-demand companies to operate microtransit or on-demand services may be best suited.

Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction data is important to funding partners so they can be sure their constituents are satisfied with the service they are paying a transit agency to operate.


The success of a transit agency depends on many circumstances outside of its control. From the distribution of jobs and housing in a community to the amount of funding available from the state government, engaging with these factors is often a matter of working with data. Partnerships with other organizations—another transit agency, a non-profit, a state agency, a business, or other entity—can help. Partnerships allow agencies to capitalize on the collective knowledge and resources of the industry and their respective regions to better address the circumstances outside of an agency’s direct control.

Obtaining data and drawing insights from it may require resources outside your organization. Smaller agencies in particular often have staffing constraints that limit the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed and what technology can be deployed. Small agency staff wear many hats, and with basic scheduling, operations, and administrative tasks taking up much of each day, data collection and analysis often take a backseat. Partnerships with other transit agencies or local, regional, and state planning agencies can provide access to novel datasets, help analyze data for decision-making, and share useful technology.

Data can also help strengthen existing relationships and support new funding or operations partnerships. Community stakeholders like local schools, colleges and universities, major employers, and others rely on transit, and data can help make a case for improving service to these constituencies or receiving financial support from them. In cases where it may be impractical for a transit agency to provide more service, partnerships help to complement an agency’s services to improve the mobility of residents and workers. One recent trend in this area involves collaborating with Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) not only for data sharing but also for making use of new technologies.

Partnerships Providing Access to Data

Not all data is “open,” and not all open data is readily used. As a result, agencies must rely on other organizations to obtain datasets vital to transportation planning. Both public and private sector entities can be potential partners, including local school districts, colleges and universities, major employers, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional planning agencies (RPAs), municipal departments, state departments of transportation (DOTs), and other transit agencies. Table 5 outlines potential partnerships and types of data available through them.

Table 5: Summary of Partnerships that Provide Access to Data

Partner Partner Contribution Output or Analysis
Local School Districts Bell times, school locations, anonymized student home locations, and student demographic information Plan services that will adequately serve the student population and plan where targeted outreach may be necessary for low-income populations and non-English speaking populations
Major Employers Shift times and approximate employee home locations Plan services that will adequately serve the employment site
Colleges and Universities Class schedules and locations of major off-campus student apartments, student help with data collection Plan services that will adequately serve the student population, collect data efficiently
Metropolitan Planning Organizations and regional planning organizations Provide demographic, social service, travel, employment, building permit, and infrastructure data, as well as technical assistance Plan services that will adequately serve the community currently and in the future, adequately plan for infrastructure improvements
Municipal Departments IT support, building permit data Troubleshoot issues with data-producing technology, maintain websites, adequately plan for future service
State Department of Transportation Travel data, infrastructure data, location-based services (LBS) data Plan services that adequately meet demand and adequately plan for infrastructure improvements
Other transit agencies Ridership data at connection points, new technologies to collect data Plan services that provide connectivity to other regions and collect new data in an automated fashion

Local School Districts

When transit agencies provide service to local schools, understanding when students travel to school and where they travel from are key inputs to service design. Funding provided by the school district to an agency will often be predicated on service to schools before and after certain bell times (see Funding Partnerships section for details on funding arrangements and special fares). Even without funding partnerships in place, it is often in a transit agency’s best interest to provide service between schools and areas with high concentrations of students, as this will increase ridership on the system.

Local school districts can provide data on school locations, bell times, and the location of student residences so agencies can better plan their school services.

To adequately serve the student population, school districts must provide agencies with a few important datasets: each school’s bell times for the beginning and end of the day, school locations, and the home addresses of students, anonymized to protect privacy to the extent possible. With this important data, the transit agency can then plan services that pick up and drop off most students within walking distance of their home and serve the schools before and after bell times in the morning and afternoon, respectively.

Even if services are oriented towards schools, federal regulations require this service remain open to the general public. According to FTA, agencies may not operate “service that a reasonable person would conclude was primarily designed to accommodate students and school personnel and only incidentally to serve the non-student general public.”56 However, agencies can operate services for local school districts that are a part of their service available to the general public. Many medium and large transit agencies operate special school service on days schools are in session, with extra trips intended to serve students and limit overcrowding on other parts of the system.

In addition to data that can be used to plan service, local schools can also provide important information on student demographics, including the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch and the number of students with limited English proficiency (and their language spoken at home). This information can be important to transit agencies for determining where to reach low-income populations in their service area, and also to better understand where different types of language outreach may be needed.

56 Federal Register. 2008. 73 (180): 53384-53390. View the reference document here (external link)


Major Employers

Similar to local school districts, major employers often partner with transit agencies to provide transportation for their employees to and from work, with a similar funding agreement typically in place (see Funding Partnerships section for details on funding arrangements and special fares). As with arrangements with school districts, even without a funding agreement, it is often in a transit agency’s best interest to provide service between major employers and areas with high concentrations of employees, as this will increase ridership on the system.

Major employers often partner with transit agencies to provide special services directed at their employees. Shift times and approximate employee ho me locations are critical datasets in this partnership.

To help improve services to work sites, major employers can provide two important datasets to transit agencies: shift start and end times and employee home addresses, if need be anonymized to larger geographies such as US Census Block Groups or ZIP codes. With this data, the transit agency can plan services that operate between areas with high concentrations of employees and the employment site prior to shift start times and after shift end times.

Colleges and Universities

Higher education institutions, including colleges, universities, and community colleges, and transit providers are often close collaborators for a good reason: students may live in densely- populated apartment complexes, may face on-campus parking restrictions, and are in an age category that is generally more likely to ride transit. While larger colleges and universities typically provide funding for transit services or provide their own services, even without a formal partnership, it is worthwhile for a transit agency to provide services to these institutions to help generate ridership.

Colleges and Universities partner with transit agencies to provide service for students to campus. Class times and student apartment locations are crucial to this partnership.

Colleges and universities can provide valuable information to transit agencies to help them plan services that will maximize ridership and efficiency, including class schedules, population figures for specific student housing complexes on campus (as applicable), and off-campus locations where students are likely to live. With this data, the transit agency can plan services that operate between areas with high concentrations of student apartments or dorms and the major academic, athletic, and administrative buildings during times when they may be in the highest use.

Similarly, community colleges can provide class schedules and students’ home addresses anonymized to larger geographies, so transit agencies can plan services that students can utilize.

Additionally, students at colleges and universities are a potential source of help for data collection. Particularly at those colleges and universities with urban planning programs, students interested in transit planning may be willing to help conduct on-board surveys, ridechecks, or even community outreach in order to fulfill internship requirements or prepare for future job opportunities.

Strong University Partnerships: Blacksburg Transit and Pullman Transit

Blacksburg Transit in Blacksburg, Virginia and Pullman Transit in Pullman, Washington have strong relationships with Virginia Tech and Washington State University, respectively. Both agencies structure their services, so they adequately transport students from large student apartment complexes to various buildings on campus. During school holidays, when demand is low, service is scaled down significantly. Both agencies work with their local universities to make annual revisions to service to ensure that routes are adequately serving the student population. Additionally, Blacksburg Transit often uses students from Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning program to work as interns, to help collect data through onboard surveys, and even to develop new mobile apps that communicate real- time bus location information to riders.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Regional Planning Agencies

Regional bodies like Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs) generate, collect, obtain, or maintain numerous datasets that would be useful to transit agencies in their jurisdictions. They can also provide technical assistance to transit agencies within their regions and help with data collection, service planning, APC/AVL data maintenance, and grant applications.

Some datasets that MPOs/RPAs collect that may be useful to transit agencies include demographic information from the Census American Community Survey (ACS), social services locations, employment data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamic (LEHD), demographic and employment projections from regional travel demand models, travel flows from regional travel demand models, building permit data for new developments, and GIS databases on roadway and sidewalk infrastructure.

Demographic information

can be useful in helping an agency identify where there are high concentrations of transit-oriented populations, such as seniors, persons with disabilities, and households without vehicles (see Chapter Three: Open Data for more information). Institutional knowledge of local demographics can also be valuable, including an understanding of what languages or dialects are commonly spoken in the region. Similarly, they may have information on community partners that deal with vulnerable populations that can provide information on where constituents live and work. While some of this data is accessible online through other sources (such as the Census American Community Survey), MPOs often compile, summarize, and analyze this data in ways that may be easier for transit agencies to use.

Locations of social services

can be useful in helping an agency identify what destinations should be served outside of traditional employment centers or activity centers. Agencies such as councils on aging, senior services, unemployment offices, child and family services, and job training are important destinations for many transit riders who do not have access to vehicles. MPOs often have GIS databases of these locations that they can provide to transit agencies.

Employment data

can be obtained from the US Census’ Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) dataset or from proprietary sources such as data axle USA (formerly InfoUSA). This data not only allows an agency to see where jobs are located in their region but, in the case of LEHD data, also allows agencies to see home-to-work travel flows—a valuable dataset when planning transit routes (see Chapter Three: Open Data for more information). Like demographic information, some job data is accessible online but can be difficult to process and use effectively. MPO/RPAs may have compiled and summarized this data into easier-to-use formats and may have access to proprietary sources of job data.

Demographic and employment projections

developed by MPOs for travel demand modeling allow agencies to see where growth is projected in their region. This, in turn, enables them to plan services that will be viable for years to come and plan for services to implement in the future.

Travel flows

from MPO regional travel demand models allow agencies to see future travel patterns, which like demographic and employment projections, let agencies plan services that will be viable in future years. Travel flows are often broken out by trip purpose and travel mode as well, allowing transit agencies to gain insight as to the specific service types that would be most successful.

Building permit data

allow agencies to see where new major developments are planned so they can plan services for the near-term future. Though regional travel demand model projections can forecast growth over a ten-to-thirty-year horizon, they have less specificity about developments pending within shorter timeframes.

Roadway and sidewalk GIS

databases can provide context to inform capital improvements for transit services. For example, they may show that certain roadways have wide shoulders that could be converted to bus-only lanes or sidewalks that could provide connections to future bus stops. Though certain roadway data is available through the US Census, local jurisdictions typically maintain more detailed databases on these assets.

Technical assistance provided by MPOs and RPAs can help transit agencies with collecting and analyzing data to be used in service planning efforts. For example, MPO staff can assist with ridechecks or distributing surveys on transit vehicles to help inform a transit development plan. Technical assistance can also be provided to help agencies clean and maintain data generated by APC and AVL systems.

Since federal funding for transit agencies in urbanized areas flows through MPOs, it is easy to allocate pockets of funding to MPOs for this type of assistance.

Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) Partnership

The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) has a partnership with the Southeastern Massachusetts MPO to provide technical assistance in a number of areas. Some of the major areas of assistance include data collection, Title VI analyses for major service changes, mapping, modeling, and demographic projections 57. Data collection assistance typically includes on-board surveys, ridechecks, bus stop inventories, and bus stop amenity inventories. Mapping assistance typically includes creating transit system maps, individual route maps, and public-facing schedule brochures.

Assistance with modeling and demographic projections usually involves providing transit market data so SRTA can conduct service planning activities. This could include prevalent travel flows in the service area and areas with high current and projected transit demand. In addition to these specific areas of assistance, as a regional entity, the SMMPO provides opportunities for coordination discussions with other regional partners and adjacent transit agencies.

Municipal Departments

Like MPOs and RPAs, departments of local governments often create and maintain important datasets on roadway and sidewalk infrastructure, employment and demographic statistics, and local building permits. Notably, when it comes to things like bus stop placement, roadway and sidewalk infrastructure data are necessary for the agency to plan for the placement of new bus stops adequately, as well as zoning and permitting data to identify upcoming trip generators. Additionally, where local transit agencies are, in fact, municipal departments themselves, other departments may be hosting the agency’s website or maintaining mobile apps. This necessitates a strong partnership between the agency and these departments so that data can be updated regularly and websites and apps can be properly maintained.

57 Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD). 2020. “FFY 2021 Unified Planning Work Program.” View the reference document here (external link)


State Departments of Transportation

Like MPOs, RPAs, and local municipal departments, state DOTs can often provide access to roadway infrastructure datasets that can help with planning for transit priority treatments or even route realignments. State DOTs also often maintain statewide or regional travel surveys that could provide an additional source of information to transit agencies exploring travel patterns in their region. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation conducted a household travel survey in 2011, which included over 15,000 responses and provided valuable information for transit agencies, including data on household travel patterns, vehicle access, age, and modes used.58

One of the most important datasets state DOTs can provide is location-based services (LBS) datasets. LBS datasets include anonymized cell phone location pings for any day or month of the year, allowing users of the data to see travel patterns across a given area. These datasets are typically made available to all public entities within the state for planning purposes, and state DOT staff can often provide technical assistance with querying and downloading data. The data allows for fine-grained travel analysis at smaller geographies and more specific time periods than traditional travel models and thus can be useful for planning specific trip times (see Chapter 1: Data Sources for more information).

Other Transit Agencies

Partnerships between adjacent agencies that have connection points between their services are particularly important. Adjacent agencies can provide access to their own schedules, ridership data, or other regional data that they may have collected. Schedules would be critical for the agency to provide timed connections to transfer points between the agencies, while ridership data could give a sense as to how many people may want to transfer between each agency’s service. For example, Radford Transit in Radford, VA, has a route that connects to the Blacksburg Transit system. Coordination between the two agencies through regional planning efforts has led to better-timed connections at several shared stops in Blacksburg and Christiansburg.

Other transit agencies can be valuable partner s by providing ridership data on connection points.

Regional datasets often contain data for areas outside of a particular agency’s service area, including the service areas of adjacent agencies. By sharing all the regional datasets the agency has access to, adjacent agencies can make sure that everyone in the region has the same data. Additionally, adjacent agencies may be able to pool resources to collect data more cost-effectively by conducting simultaneous ridechecks or by buying APC/AVL systems in bulk.

58 Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 2010-2011. “Massachusetts Travel Survey.” View the reference document here (external link)


Partnerships for Data Analysis and Technology

ITS devices and thorough data analysis come at the cost of both capital outlays and staff expertise. Transit agencies need not conduct all procurement or data analysis themselves: often, there are partners that can help agencies procure, develop, or maintain technology or who can process datasets that new technologies produce. In some cases, agencies are sharing their own proprietary technology with other agency partners and helping them troubleshoot issues with new technology. All of these methods of collaboration allow transit agencies to expand their technical capabilities without having to hire new staff or undertake difficult procurement processes themselves. Table 6 shows a summary of these partnerships.

Table 6: Summary of Partnerships on Technology

Partner Partner Contribution
Municipal Departments IT support, app or interface development, website development, technology procurement, GIS assistance
Colleges and Universities Development of new apps and interfaces
Other Transit Agencies Sharing technology, help with technical specifications for new technology procurements

Municipal Departments

When transit agencies are departments of local municipalities, municipal Information Technology (IT) departments can be a valuable partner for agencies wishing to deploy new technologies or develop their own applications. These departments typically have staff familiar with website design and can provide assistance to agencies dealing with issues within these realms. Agencies with AVL systems can work with IT departments to develop interfaces that display real-time information to customers and operations staff–much like the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (EPTA) did with the Berkeley County, WV IT Department (see case study below).

Municipal IT Departments can help agencies deploy new technologies or create their own.

Other departments can also be helpful partners to transit agencies. Maintenance departments can help when transit agencies are trying to procure new technologies, providing guidance as to which components would be necessary to make the proposed system work within the agency’s current fleet. Municipalities also typically have GIS departments or GIS specialists that can aid transit agencies with compiling their spatial data into maps or creating components of GTFS feeds.

Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities are often a great source of technical knowledge and can help with developing things like mobile apps and website interfaces. Those that have urban planning, engineering, or computer science programs often have class projects or internship requirements for students. Transit agencies can make good partners for these efforts and develop new customer information apps, real-time information apps, or other public-facing web interfaces with students and faculty through them.

Deploying Technology: Blacksburg Transit and Virginia Tech

Blacksburg Transit in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Virginia Tech University collaborated to create a mobile app for the agency that would contain important information for riders. The main goal of the app was to disseminate real-time bus location information to riders using the agency’s AVL feed. Other important information was added, including passenger loads on each active bus, links to bus schedules, and a trip planner. The passenger load information was particularly important to riders, as buses can become overcrowded during peak times right before classes begin in the morning at Virginia Tech. The original app was called BT4U, but with subsequent updates, it was changed to just the “BT App.”

Other Transit Agencies

Partnerships between transit agencies can also be beneficial to the development and deployment of new technologies such as APC, AVL, EPC, or AFC systems, mobile ticketing apps, or mobile customer information apps.

Funding partnerships may also be formed with other transit agencies through joint procurements of new technology. In this scenario, two or more transit agencies would pool funding in order to get bulk discounts from vendors when purchasing new technologies such as AVL or EPC systems. Then when these devices start generating data, the agencies can work with each other to troubleshoot data processing issues or even create shared data templates for analysis.

Other transit agencies can share technology and collaborate in troubleshooting issues with new technologies.

When developing a new real-time information app, agencies using the same AVL vendors can share the backends used to create the app so another agency can customize it for their own system. The sharing of this kind of information is typically beneficial to all agencies involved, as deploying them to additional agencies often uncovers minor errors or expands their capabilities. When procuring new technologies, transit agencies can call on other transit agencies that have deployed the technology before to ensure that it will work well with their existing systems and even help develop technical specifications.

Agency Profile: Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority and Berkley County, WV “Where’s my Bus” Application.

The Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (EPTA) And The Berkeley County, WV It Department Collaborated On A Real-time Bus Location Platform Called “Where’s My Bus.”

EPTA bus

An EPTA Van in Service
Figure 30: An EPTA Van in Service


Over the past several years, EPTA has expanded its services significantly while upgrading its fleet, branding, marketing, and customer service. EPTA operates deviated fixed-route service in Berkeley County and Jefferson County, West Virginia, with its main hub in downtown Martinsburg. Approximately 80 miles west of Washington, DC, Berkeley County has seen rapid population and employment growth over the past ten years. In reaction to this, EPTA expanded from six routes in 2014 to 13 in 2020.

After EPTA installed Zonar Systems AVL technology on its vehicles, they sought a platform to easily share vehicle locations with their dispatching staff and the general public. After conversations with Bluefield Transit, another small transit agency in West Virginia, EPTA learned how they could create a real-time bus location web interface with their AVL data. EPTA enlisted the Berkeley County Information Technology (IT) department’s help to develop a similar interface. Using the Zonar API, Berkeley County staff created a web page that tracks each bus in operation on a Google base map with an automatic refresh. The site can be viewed easily on a mobile phone in addition to EPTA’s website.

Resources Needed

EPTA staff provided the Berkeley County IT with the API received from Zonar, and then two Berkeley County IT staff members were able to create the website in about six weeks for a total cost of only $2,500. After EPTA staff reviewed the initial version, EPTA launched it to the public in April 2018. When Zonar made updates to their API, EPTA paid Berkeley County to update the website, which only took a few hours. Overall, EPTA noted that using Berkeley County staff

saved them considerable money over using a private vendor. Since the webpage was created in the PHP programming language, which is free and open-source, there were no additional costs to create and maintain the website outside EPTA’s annual contract with Zonar and Berkeley County staff hours.

EPTA and Berkeley County did not note any major barriers to creating the webpage outside of having a public partner like Berkeley County with staff skilled in PHP, the use of APIs, and website building. The

webpage was set up under the Berkeley County website domain to make updates to it easier. Zonar Systems set up their hardware on EPTA’s vehicles as part of a state procurement that included installation costs and the hardware itself.

screen shot of Where’s My Bus Webpage
Figure 31: Where’s My Bus Webpage


The webpage created, known as “Where’s My Bus,” has reduced the number of customer service calls into EPTA’s office and has been well received by customers. The webpage also allows EPTA administrative and operations staff to track bus locations, which aids in troubleshooting potential transfer issues with customers who call in for assistance.

Very little maintenance of the webpage is required, and when needed, Berkeley County IT staff has taken the lead to provide any updates necessary. As was previously mentioned, Zonar changed their API in 2020, and Berkeley County staff were able to update the webpage in only a few hours. Switching to a new AVL vendor would require a more significant update, however.

Screen shots of Where’s My Bus Mobile App
Figure 32: Where’s My Bus Mobile App

EPTA also uses in-vehicle cameras provided by Zonar Systems. In the future, EPTA and Berkeley County hope to partner again to bring live camera feeds from each vehicle into “Where’s My Bus” so customers and EPTA staff can monitor passenger loads in real-time. This will allow customers to make trip planning decisions on busier routes that at times can get overcrowded and allow EPTA staff to verify overcrowding issues reported by drivers and customers.

Lessons Learned

There were several lessons learned when implementing the “Where’s my Bus” webpage, including:

  • Different AVL vendors have significant differences in the format of their data and their APIs. Initially, EPTA thought they might be able to deploy the Bluefield Transit code with minimal effort, but Berkeley County staff had to rework much of it to get it to work with the Zonar formatting.
  • Using a public partner like a local government’s IT department meant significant savings over using a private vendor.

Key Takeaways

  • With inspiration from another small agency in the same state, EPTA was able to envision a real- time vehicle tracking application it could easily deploy to its customers without significant procurement efforts.
  • The partnership between EPTA and Berkeley County led to the successful deployment of the real-time vehicle tracking application called “Where’s my Bus.”
  • Using county staff, EPTA was able to save costs over hiring a private vendor to deploy a similar application.

Using Data to Build Partnerships

Even though transit agencies are relied upon for transportation services, it can be difficult for transit agencies to prove their importance to the agencies that fund or oversee them. When building a new relationship with a partner organization, providing proof of the effectiveness of an agency can be even more difficult. Certain types of data analyses can help illustrate a transit agency’s importance to a community and make a case for more funding support from current and existing partners. These analyses include ridership and performance data analysis, transit demand analysis, and customer satisfaction analysis. Table 7 summarizes the ways to use data to strengthen partnerships.

Table 7: Summary of Ways to Use Data to Strengthen Partnerships

Partnership Type of Data Key Result
Major employers Ridership and performance data, customer satisfaction data Ensure that services intended for their employees are performing well, continue partnership
Local school districts, colleges, and universities Ridership and performance data, customer satisfaction data Ensure that services tailored to their students are performing well, continue partnership
Local funding partners Ridership and performance data, customer satisfaction data Ensure that services are efficient and passengers are satisfied with the service
TNCs or mobility on- demand companies Transit demand analysis, ridership on the partnered service Ensure that service provided has strong ridership and partnership is viable

Ridership and Performance Data Analyses

Ridership and other performance data can provide key information to justify partnerships with existing or potential partners, particularly those that provide funding or grants to agencies.

Major employers that are partnered with transit agencies

typically want to see how the service they are contributing to is performing in terms of ridership and on-time performance, and also whether it is well-timed to serve their employees. Providing these employers with summaries of this information helps keep them informed and actively aware of the benefits of the service. Where partnerships include free fares for employees, tracking them allows the agency to ensure that the funding received from the employer is sufficient. Major employers that could be potential partners often will want to see data on how many potential employees could use the service proposed along with data on the agency’s reliability performance before committing to a partnership.

Other major employers such as hospitals, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels

can become better partners when data on how connecting transit services are performing. These employers want to know that both their employees and customers are able to reach their sites efficiently and easily, and can often become funding partners if they feel the service is directly benefiting them.

Local school districts, colleges, and universities

that are partnered with transit agencies also typically want to see how their partnered services are performing, so ridership data and on-time performance data are important to justify and continue partnerships.

Other local funding partners, such as municipalities, counties, or special districts

that provide funding matches to transit agencies typically want to see that services are operated efficiently, and passengers are satisfied with the service they are getting. Ridership and performance data can demonstrate that these factors are true; for example, high ridership per revenue hour figures can prove that the agency is operating efficiently.

Transit Demand Analyses

Transit demand analyses demonstrate where transit service would be most successful. Demographic characteristics and travel patterns often show that certain types of transit service would be more viable than others. In particular, areas with high concentrations of transit-oriented populations but lower population and employment densities may be better suited for demand-response or microtransit service instead of fixed-route service. In this scenario, the agency could enter into an operations partnership with a Transportation Network Company (TNC) or a mobility on-demand (MOD) company that provides this type of service and can operate it on behalf of the agency in a more efficient manner.

Partnerships to operate service can increase efficiencies and improve mobility in a community.

an operations partnership, an agency typically pays a TNC or mobility on-demand company a portion of its operating budget to operate daily service in certain portions of their service area. These companies then provide a trip request and routing platform that is used to request trips directly from customers and route vehicles efficiently to their desired pick-up and drop-off locations. Agencies can either use their own vehicles and drivers, or the company they are partnering with can provide vehicles and drivers. Key to this partnership is a data exchange; the company operating the service must know where demand exists, and the transit agency must know what trips are being made and what fares are being collected to ensure proper reporting. Good transit demand data will ensure that the service areas defined for these companies will yield strong ridership, and strong ridership will ensure that the partnership will be viable and long-lasting.

Baldwin County, AL Microtransit Service Partnership

Baldwin County, Alabama, recently converted its entire network of fixed-route services (known as BRATS) to microtransit service in a partnership with the mobility on-demand company Via.59 Customers request trips using a mobile app, and then Via’s routing platform develops dynamic routing that allows riders to go anywhere in the service zone on-demand. Passengers usually need to walk a block or two to board service. Ridership data, reported through trip logs, are important to maintain the viability of the partnership. In addition to being reported to NTD, spatial ridership data can help the agency make decisions on service zone expansions or reductions or portions of the service area that may need additional vehicles to meet demand.

Customer Satisfaction Analysis

Funding partners of transit agencies providing service to their constituents want to know that they are satisfied with the service they are paying for; this makes customer satisfaction data important to share with funding partners. Whether they are major employers, local school districts, colleges, universities, or local governments, partners need to know that their investment is valued by their students, employees, or residents. Customer satisfaction data is typically collected by agencies through on-board surveys (some with online counterparts), mobile apps, website forms, or even specialized programs where passengers can provide feedback. Virtual public engagement can also be an important tool for gathering feedback on customer satisfaction. For more information on virtual public engagement, see the N-CATT Guidebook for Virtual Public Engagement.

Agencies that have mobile apps often allow riders to send feedback through the app. Pullman Transit, for example, collects customer satisfaction data this way. Larger agencies like the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore, Maryland, deploy a specialized application called “Rate My Ride” that allows riders to fill out a short survey on their website. What is most important is that the agency analyzes this data regularly and works to solve areas of their service that are poorly rated by riders. This will help demonstrate that the agency is committed to customer service and ensure that there is a desire to continue the partnership.

59 Baldwin County. n.d. BRATS Transit. View the reference website here (external link)



Partnerships with outside agencies can help small transit agencies provide better service, operate more efficiently, implement new technologies, and acquire new data. Partnering with entities such as local schools, colleges and universities, and major employers can unlock new potential ridership and revenue sources for an agency. Partnering with state and regional agencies can provide new data sources that are critical to an agency understanding its customer base and the characteristics of its service area, allowing them to operate more efficiently and better serve their community.

Partnerships with municipal departments and colleges and universities allow transit agencies to develop or acquire and maintain new technologies, including real-time information apps or websites, and mobile fare payment apps. They also provide resources to ensure that technology procurements will work with the agency’s existing systems.

Ridership, performance, and customer satisfaction data are critical to proving the importance of the transit agency’s service to current and potential partners. When partners are providing funding to a transit agency, they need to know that their funding is being used by the agency efficiently and that their constituents are satisfied with the service they are receiving. Data can also be used to guide the development of partnerships with companies that operate services on behalf of an agency, such as TNCs or mobility on-demand companies.

Checklist: What types of partnerships does your agency already have, and what types would you like to explore further?

Partnerships With… Partnerships Intended To… Currently Use This Type of Partnership Want to Use This Type of Partnership
Local School Districts …share data to operate school service
Major Employers …share data to operate service to major employment sites
Colleges and Universities …share data to operate service for students
…help develop technology
MPOs/RPAs …acquire new data
Municipal Departments …acquire new data
…help develop and maintain technology
State DOTs …acquire new data
Other Transit Agencies …share data
…pool resources to purchase technology
…share technology
TNCs and Mobility On- Demand Companies …share data to operate on-demand or microtransit service