A Fistful of Data: FTA Updates Transit Database Reporting Requirements

Hear ye, hear ye! As a direct result the IIJA’s passage, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is changing its data reporting practices. On July 7, the FTA posted a notice of upcoming changes to the National Transit Database (NTD). The new rules will apply to any recipients of the Urbanized Area formula Program or Rural Area Formula Program.

The FTA’s raison d’être for making changes to its database reporting requirements is because it did not have timely information on transit ridership or transit service levels to “adequately” inform decision-makers during crisis situations (such as a global pandemic). The FTA’s new sampling methodology will obtain a “representative nationwide snapshot” of transit ridership and service levels throughout a given revenue year, rather than annually. Eno has the latest on what the changes to the reporting system means for transit agencies and their riders.

Securing Satisfying Sampling

New FTA sampling would use a stratified random sampling based on region, mode, and other factors. Importantly, sampling will not be entirely random. The rules announcement made clear that larger national and regional service levels will most likely be selected multiple times to ensure accuracy.

Under the new scheme, the FTA proposes to collect four data points once each month on:

  • The weekday, 5-day unlinked passenger trip (UPT) total for the reference week.
  • Weekday 5-day vehicle revenue miles (VRM) total for the reference week
  • Weekend 2-day unliked passenger trip (UPT) total for either the weekend preceding or following the reference week
  • Weekend 2-day vehicle revenue miles (VRM) for either the weekend preceding or following the reference week.

All information will need to be submitted three business days after the last day of the reference week. 

Gathering General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS)

The FTA will also require the collection of General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS). GTFS is a form of data presentation that can be used in a number of programs. The FTA estimates that 35 percent of NTD reporters already adopted GTFS standards. Having a standardized data reporting system means that collected data can be analyzed in a more consistent manner using a variety of programs, such as Walk Score, Mapumental, Travel Assistant Device, GIS, and Google Maps.

GTFS submissions must include, at minimum:

  • Agency
  • Stops
  • Routes
  • Trips
  • Stop Times
  • Calendar or Calendar Dates.txt
  • Feed Into.txt

Additional Asks:

It’s not just sampling and specifications that the FTA is after. The FTA also proposed collecting geospatial data for demand response modes using a new NTD form, featuring the following questions. The FTA is not requiring geospatial information from capital asset-only groups. The new reporting requirements will only apply to reporters that “operate a fixed route mode.”Agencies should expect the questions to be asked as soon as RY 2023.

The FTA is also planning on collecting an organization’s emergency contact information in RY 2023.  The FTA will also collect vehicle fuel type from rural, tribal, and capital asset-only reporters to meet new emission reduction requirements found in the IIJA.

Imminent Implementation:

Implementation will come in two parts. In RY 2023, NTD reporters will be required to establish and submit a web-hosted GTFS dataset for their fixed route service. The datasets should cover multiple modes from the agency, and once submitted, should be consistently updated.

In RY 2024, the FTA is also proposing that NTD reporters certify their data annually. Information that cannot be submitted via the web page can and must be submitted via other means, such as email. The FTA expects the majority of agencies will be able to web-host GTFS datasets.

The FTA will monitor compliance by periodically checking web links and annually asking reporters to confirm the accuracy of their GTFS feeds as a part of an annual kick-off task. The FTA expects that most of the GTFS data will be hosted on transit agency sites.

The recent closing of the rule’s public comments illustrates how the IIJA is already changing nationwide transit practices. Only time will tell if the new practices yield important revelations for transit agencies across the country.

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