Subcommittee on Census Data For Transportation Planning

Proposed TCRP Project

Problem Title
Census Data for Transit Systems Planning

Transit system planners require census data for various activities including route service planning, accessibility and equity analyses, and major investment analyses. Transit planners need comprehensive training in the use of census data and other federal statistical data sources. Transit planners also need training in the use of American Community Survey (ACS) data. ACS is a new Bureau of the Census program to provide continuous census data to its customers, and is intended as the eventual replacement for the traditional census “long form.”

Transit planners need to take best advantage of the multitude of census products, including traditional summaries from the decennial census “short form” and “long form” data, Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) data, and the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP).

Tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are increasingly important in transit planning activities. The research will explore innovative and creative means to use census data within a GIS software environment.

The objective of this project will be the development of training materials to assist transit system planners to obtain and use census and other federal statistical data sources. These training materials may be in the form of handbooks or other multimedia training materials.

The following are the proposed specific research elements:

1.  Survey of existing transit operator practice with respect to use of census data in transit system planning, and GIS;
2.  Prepare case studies of innovative transit applications of census data, including use of CTPP, PUMS and traditional census data;
3.  Prepare a transit focused planning application using data from the 1996-98 American Community Survey (ACS) pilot study; or data from the 1999-2001 American Community Survey “comparison period;”
4.  Prepare a final TCRP report that summarizes transit operator survey data; innovative application case studies; and the ACS planning application.   The report should be in the form of a handbook that will provide guidance to transit planners on the best uses of census data, instructions on how to use it and tips on combining it within a GIS.
Cost:  $300,000. 18 months project.

Transit system planners are in urgent need of recent, small area socio-economic data to better understand and serve the needs of a changing population. The American Community Survey is a major departure from previous census activities and will be a boon in terms of current, small area socio-economic data. The data will be needed for Title VI and environmental justice analyses, current route planning, and long-range transit system planning efforts. The research is needed since there is no existing guidance on how to use small area, continuous survey data for transit planning activities.

This proposed project best relates to the FTA Strategic Goals related to Planning and Policy Research; and Specialized Transit Services. In terms of Specialized Transit Services, the Census American Community Survey may be the only source of current, small area (neighborhood-level) data on the distribution of low-income elderly and other transit-dependent travelers within a transit service area.

In terms of TCRP’s Strategic Priorities, this proposed project relates well to all four priorities. Probably the most germane priority is to “Place the Customer First” since the Census American Community Survey will provide the best neighborhood-level data for understanding the distribution of existing and potential customers.

In terms of completed research, proceedings of the two most recent conferences on census data for transportation planning are the most relevant: TRB Conference Proceedings #4 “Decennial Census Data for Transportation Planning” (1995); and TRB Conference Proceedings #13 “Decennial Census Data for Transportation Planning: Case Studies and Strategies for 2000” (1997).

USDOT, the Census Bureau, and AASHTO are currently collaborating on the Census 2000 Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP) including product specification and preparation of travel analysis zones for tabulating CTPP data.

In addition, using CTPP data in transportation planning was offered as a NHI course several years ago.  In 1996 this course was modified for transit properties and piloted for the Northeastern Illinois transit agencies.  Twenty transit planners attended the class that was held in the Chicago Transit Authority’s training center.

Chuck Purvis
Senior Transportation Planner/Analyst
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Oakland, CA 
Mary Kay Christopher
General Manager, Service Planning
Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago, IL

This problem statement is a collaborative effort of the TRB Subcommittee on Census Data for Transportation Planning, A1D08[1].

Ed Christopher
Chair, TRB Subcommittee A1D08[1] (Subcommittee on Census Data for Transportation Planning) and
Transportation Analyst
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
U.S. Department of Transportation
Washington D.C.  20590

May 22, 2000

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Comments? Send to Ed Christopher (subcommittee chair)