Mass Transit:

'Mobility Improvements' Is One of Many Factors Used to Evaluate Mass Transit Projects

RCED-00-6R: Published: Oct 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 1999.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on how the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) considers mobility improvements as it evaluates proposed new starts projects, focusing on: (1) how a proposed project's rating for mobility improvements affects its likelihood for selection; and (2) FTA's proposed changes in how it will evaluate mobility improvements.

GAO noted that: (1) the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century requires that, before FTA may approve a grant or a loan for a proposed new starts transit project, it must evaluate the project in a variety of ways, including its operating and capital finance plans and the mobility improvements, environmental benefits, and projected cost-effectiveness and operating efficiencies associated with the project; (2) to help develop a proposed project's overall rating, FTA, based on documentation submitted by project sponsors, assigns a descriptive rating of high, medium-high, medium, low-medium, or low to each criterion, including mobility improvements; (3) once the individual criterion ratings are completed, FTA combines them to develop summary project justification and local financial commitment ratings; (4) FTA then combines the project justification and financial commitment summary ratings to assign an overall project rating of highly recommended, recommended, or not recommended; (5) to receive the highly recommended rating, a project must have summary project justification and local financial commitment ratings of at least medium-high; (6) to receive a rating of recommended, the project must have summary ratings of at least medium; (7) a project is rated as not recommended when either summary rating is less than medium; (8) FTA evaluates the proposed improvements for mobility by reviewing two measures--travel time savings and the number of low-income households served; (9) FTA then ranks the projects according to both of these mobility improvements measures and assigns, for each measure, a rating based on the projects' relative rankings; (10) these ratings are then combined to assign an overall mobility improvements rating; (11) because FTA considers numerous criteria in determining a project's overall rating, a rating in any one criterion cannot be used to absolutely predict FTA's final determination with respect to a particular project; (12) according to a FTA official, the agency is considering several changes that would better address mobility improvements for low-income households as part of its regulations on the entire new starts evaluation process; (13) the Department of Transportation issued, in April 1999, a notice of proposed rulemaking describing how FTA considers every new starts project criteria, including mobility improvements, to establish overall project ratings; and (14) FTA expects the final regulation to be implemented in time to be used to prepare its fiscal year 2002 report on new starts funding to be issued in February 20001.

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