Federal Transit Administration:

Progress and Challenges in Implementing and Evaluating the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program

GAO-09-496: Published: May 21, 2009. Publicly Released: May 21, 2009.

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Established in 1998, the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program (JARC)-administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)--awards grants to states and localities to provide transportation to help low-income individuals access jobs. In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) reauthorized the program and made changes, such as allocating funds by formula to large and small urban and rural areas through designated recipients, usually transit agencies and states. SAFETEA-LU also required GAO to periodically review the program. This second report under the mandate examines (1) the extent to which FTA has awarded JARC funds for fiscal years 2006 through 2008, and how recipients are using the funds; (2) challenges faced by recipients in implementing the program; and (3) FTA's plans to evaluate the program. For this work, GAO analyzed data and interviewed officials from FTA, nine states, and selected localities.

FTA is making progress in awarding funds and has awarded about 48 percent of the $436.6 million in JARC funds apportioned for fiscal years 2006 through 2008 to 49 states and 131 of 152 large urbanized areas. Recipients plan to use the funds primarily to operate transit services. However, about 14 percent of fiscal year 2006 funds lapsed. According to FTA officials, these funds lapsed for several reasons. For example, some applicants did not meet administrative requirements in time to apply for funds. FTA officials are working with states and localities to reduce the amount of funds that lapse in the future. Recipients plan to use 65 percent of fiscal year 2006 funds to operate transit services, 28 percent for capital projects, and 7 percent for administrative costs. States and local authorities GAO interviewed cited multiple challenges in implementing the JARC program; a common concern is that, overall, the effort required to obtain JARC funds is disproportionate to the relatively small amount of funding available. One challenge cited by recipients was that FTA's delay in issuing final guidance and the process to identify designated recipients reduced the time available to secure funds before the funds expired. In addition, although recipients considered the coordinated planning process beneficial, many cited factors that hindered coordination, including lack of resources and the reluctance of some stakeholders to participate. Moreover, although the JARC program requires human service providers to be included as stakeholders, other transportation planning requirements do not, complicating the coordinated planning process. Some designated recipients also expressed concerns about identifying stable sources of matching funds and duplicative efforts in administering JARC with other FTA programs. These challenges have delayed applications for funds and project implementation, and contributed to the lapse in fiscal year 2006 funds. Although FTA has not completed an evaluation of the JARC program under SAFETEA-LU, recipients we spoke with indicated that projects have benefited low-income individuals by providing a means to get to work. Since 2000, FTA has refined its approach for evaluating the program and currently has two studies under way to evaluate the JARC program under SAFETEA-LU. However, both studies may have limitations that could affect FTA's assessment of the program. One of these studies--due in September 2009--will evaluate projects using FTA's performance measures; specifically, the number of rides provided and number of jobs accessed. However, collecting reliable data for these measures is problematic, particularly for the number of jobs accessed. The other study--due in the spring of 2010--will include results of a survey of JARC recipients and individuals using JARC services and will focus on the program's impact on those using the services. However, this study will use a methodology similar to that used in a prior study which had limitations in the survey instrument design and data analysis. FTA does not have a comprehensive process in place to assess whether its researchers use generally accepted survey design and data analysis methodologies.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DOT should direct the FTA to determine what actions FTA or Congress could take to address the challenges agencies have encountered. For example, these actions could include providing more specific guidance to assist large urbanized areas with jurisdiction over small urbanized or rural areas, or suggesting that Congress consider consolidating the application processes for JARC and other programs with similar requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, GAO reported that state and local authorities cited multiple challenges in implementing the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) Program. A common concern was that, overall, the effort required to obtain JARC funds places an administrative burden on recipients because the effort is disproportionate to the relatively small amount of funding available. One challenge cited by recipients (e.g., transit agencies or states) was that FTA's delay in issuing final guidance and the process to identify designated recipients reduced the time available to secure funds before the funds expired. Moreover, some recipients found the guidance vague and overly broad. In addition, although recipients considered the coordinated planning process beneficial, many cited factors that hindered coordination, including a lack of resources and the reluctance of some stakeholders to participate. Some recipients also expressed concerns about identifying stable sources of matching funds and duplicative efforts in administering JARC with other FTA programs. These challenges delayed applications for funds and project implementation, and contributed to a lapse of 14 percent of the funds available in fiscal year 2006 at the end of fiscal year 2008. FTA was taking steps to address these challenges, and noted that some challenges, such as the amount of funding and flexibility in using JARC funds, were rooted in statute and would need to be addressed by Congress in the next surface transportation reauthorization. GAO recommended that the Secretary of DOT direct the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to determine what actions FTA or Congress could take to address the challenges agencies have encountered, such as providing more specific guidance to assist large urbanized areas with jurisdiction over small urbanized or rural areas, or suggesting that Congress consider consolidating the application processes for JARC and other programs with similar requirements to reduce the administrative burden. Rather than identify actions to be taken, FTA took action to address the challenges agencies have encountered. In 2011, we confirmed that FTA provided more guidance and technical assistance to help recipients address challenges associated with the JARC program and continued to work with individual recipients that encountered problems. Additionally, FTA's input to the President's Budget for fiscal year 2012 proposed that Congress consolidate the JARC program with two similar small formula programs (the New Freedom and the Elderly and Individuals with Disabilities programs) to streamline administration and provide more flexibility at the local level. Congress did consolidate these three programs when it passed the new surface transportation legislation in 2012 by merging JARC with two other larger programs (urbanized and rural area grants) and combining the New Freedom and Elderly and Individuals with Disabilities programs into a new grant to enhance the mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities. As a result, recipients' administrative burden should be reduced and they should have sufficient guidance to apply for these programs in a timely manner. Further, FTA should be able to award more funds from these programs to implement additional projects and accordingly, less funds will lapse in the future.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DOT should direct the FTA to ensure that program evaluations use generally accepted survey design and data analysis methodologies by conducting a peer review of current and future program evaluations, including UIC's current study of the JARC program. This review could be conducted with the assistance of another agency within DOT, such as the Bureau of Transportation Statistics within DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, GAO reported that Federal Transit Administration (FTA) had improved its approach for evaluating the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program since 2000 and had two studies under way to evaluate the program under SAFETEA-LU. One study, under contract with the University of Illinois (UIC), was to evaluate the program's economic impacts using data from a survey of JARC service users, program managers, and coordinated human services transportation plan participants. However, this study was to use a methodology similar to that used in a prior study which had limitations in the survey instrument design and data analysis. FTA also did not have a comprehensive process in place to assess whether its researchers use generally accepted survey design and data analysis methodologies. Therefore, GAO recommended that FTA ensure that program evaluations use generally accepted survey design and data analysis methodologies by conducting a peer review of current and future program evaluations, including the current study of the JARC program. In response, UIC's 2011 report on the results of the study indicated that the surveys UIC used were reviewed by an independent, professional survey review committee, pretested three different times and revised several times as a result of the pretests. Additionally, FTA indicated that the study was peer reviewed by an expert in sampling and design of experiments. As a result, FTA ensured that the evaluation of the JARC program used generally accepted survey design and data analysis practices addressing the limitations that would have negatively affected the assessment of the program.

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