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Highlights

Public demand and federal funding for transit have grown in recent years, yet most of this funding is not tied to performance. As Congress prepares for reauthorization of the federal surface transportation programs, GAO was asked to report on (1) the extent to which federal transit programs use performance information in making decisions about funding distribution and in evaluating the programs' effectiveness; (2) mechanisms for making these programs more performance based, and strategies for supporting their successful implementation; and (3) how selected U.S. and foreign transit agencies have used performance measurement in their planning and decisions, and their views on the federal role in transit. To do so, GAO analyzed legislation, federal documents, and literature; interviewed federal officials and transit experts; and conducted semistructured interviews with selected transit agencies using criteria that, for U.S. agencies, covered a variety of regions and population sizes and, for foreign agencies, multiple transit modes and English language capability.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. To enhance the performance of federal transit programs, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to study and report to Congress on options for adding performance accountability mechanisms to transit grant programs. FTA should strive to provide such information in time to be considered during the reauthorization of the federal transit programs.
Closed - Not Implemented
FTA requested that the recommendation be closed as not implemented citing various performance metrics in place to address existing requirements and various reporting mechanisms to Congress in which the agency reports on performance measures. Although we recognize that FTA has incorporated performance-based principles into some of its formula grant programs to allocate funding, we found that FTA did not use the performance data it collected to evaluate the effectiveness of its formula grant programs and therefore recommended that FTA study and report to Congress on options for adding performance accountability mechanisms to transit grant programs preferably in time to be considered during the reauthorization of federal transit programs. As FTA did not conduct such a study and the authorization of these programs has already occurred, we agree and are closing this recommendation as not implemented. However, as part of the reauthorization of federal transit programs, DOT will be required to report to Congress in 2017 on progress states and other grantees have made in achieving established performance targets, including performance measures established for transit agencies.
Department of Transportation 2. To improve FTA's ability to determine the extent to which transit grants, current formula incentives, and FTA program activities have had a positive effect on local transit agency performance--and to the extent that FTA finds current data sources to be appropriate and reliable for such purposes-- the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to further analyze and use data submitted to FTA by local transit agencies. As part of this analysis, FTA may want to identify and evaluate, when applicable, (1) the extent to which transit grant programs are accomplishing their established goals; (2) the areas of performance in which FTA should concentrate its program activities to increase the performance of local transit agencies and the federal transit program in general; and (3) the extent to which formula incentives and other performance accountability mechanisms have influenced the activities and performance of local transit agencies.
Closed - Not Implemented
While FTA has taken steps to implement this recommendation, such as issuing final safety rules for state of good repair and public transportation agency safety plans, FTA estimates that it could be several years before local transit agencies report enough data to the National Transit Database on state of good repair and safety measures to identify trends and progress toward safety goals as well as develop related performance measures and targets, which are needed to enable FTA to systematically assess transit agency safety performance. In addition, FTA does not plan to use data collected to determine the extent to which transit grant programs are accomplishing their established goals or the extent to which formula incentives and other performance accountability mechanisms have influenced the activities and performance of local transit agencies, as suggested in the recommendation, which could help it evaluate the effectiveness of its grant programs. Given the uncertainty surrounding the transit agencies related actions, as well as the age of the recommendation, GAO is closing this recommendation as closed-not implemented.

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