Last July, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) posted new NTD reporting changes and solicited feedback on the requirements. Recently they posted their updates based on that feedback and there are several significant changes transit agencies should know about.
1. New weekly reporting
FTA will be collecting weekly reference data from a sample set of modal reporters for two transit service metrics using a new Ridership Activity form called MR-20. FTA stressed that this is a change in frequency, not the type of reporting and that there is no need to collect new metrics “at this time.”
Selected agencies will need to report the following data points:
- UPT – unlinked passenger trips
- VRM – vehicle revenue miles
Not as relevant to our readership, but still worth noting: vanpool operators can now report vehicles operated in maximum service (VOMS) instead of VRM and UPT data.
The initial impetus for a move to weekly reporting was undoubtedly the disruptions caused by COVID-19, but there are other reasons for increasing the cadence of reporting. FTA expects to see patterns in service and ridership trends on a national level, acknowledging that “even for agencies where week-to-week variation is minimal, the larger patterns still tell an important story about the state of our nation’s transit.” There may be unknowns at play (like return to office or large-scale weather events like the Canadian fires this month) and having insight into their impact sooner will be helpful.
Initially Sample-Based Monthly Data (WE-20) reports were required within three business days – that window has been extended to seven business days.
2. How weekly WE-20 reporting compares with monthly reporting
Facing criticism that adding a new weekly reporting requirement burdens already understaffed agencies, FTA has stressed that the metrics are the same as the those reported under the existing MR-20 form, and therefore agencies “should not need to overhaul existing systems, but rather should modify them to collect enough data to estimate ridership for the reference week.”
There is no requirement to reconcile the WE-20 reporting with MR-20 monthly reporting. Instead, the WE-20 data should aim to be the “best available” estimate.
3. Moving to sample-based reporting
FTA will select roughly one-fifth of the 2,000 or so NTD reporters for their sample. This selection will not be completely random. Instead, FTA will try to balance between small (i.e., with 100 or less fixed route vehicles) and large agencies for reporting. Agencies with large national or regional service levels could be selected as sample reporters multiple times.
Small, rural, and even Tribal agencies can be selected for reporting. FTA stresses that these smaller agencies will report for an (as yet unspecified) shorter time than larger agencies. Agencies that can’t meet the reporting requirements are advised to work with their NTD analyst to document their specific challenges, and it is possible that in some cases FTA will replace them as a sample reporter.
FTA maintains they will work “to make sure that the process of weekly reference reporting is as simple and frictionless as possible, particularly where challenges exist due to resource or system constraints.”
The first group of agencies to be sampled should expect FTA to notify them in the next few weeks. And there will be some lead time: “notified agencies will be given three months to prepare for their first WE-20 submission.”
4. Reporting route and service changes
Service changes should be reflected in an agency’s GTFS feeds. However, short term changes, like detours or bus stop closings, do not require updates to feeds. Understanding that agencies are short on staffing for reporting, FTA will not require “…agencies to update their feeds prior to service changes, nor will it adopt a strict seven-day timeline for incorporating service changes into the GTFS feeds.” Instead, FTA intends to conduct periodic checks on feeds to ensure they are kept up to date.
5. Feed compliance
As part of their annual reporting, agencies will need to certify on their annual D-10 form that their GTFS links are accessible and up to date. A second level of verification will be periodic FTA inspections to validate GTFS web links. FTA has not provided guidance on when those inspections will occur, stating only that “agencies should ensure that GTFS web links are in working condition throughout the year.” FTA also expects to use weekly WE-20 data to validate prior WE-20 or MR-20 submissions.
Agencies are also required to display their current GTFS reporting to the public. For those agencies that have security or other technical issues preventing this, agencies can have NRTAP host their data instead.
6. New demand response reporting requirements
FTA will also start requiring reporting on the geographic areas covered by demand response services. One proposed solution, using geospatial file formats like GTFS-Flex, has been nixed by the FTA because it is yet to be adopted across agencies, and therefore will complicate reporting. Also, FTA requires additional, non-geographic information (fares, service dates) to be reported on its form. Agencies with demand response modes will now also need to complete a new B-15 form – Geospatial Data for DR Modes. This is a 10-question form for each Mode/Type of service that is demand response, with questions related to states and census places. Agencies must submit this information as early as Report Year 2023 (September 2024), which gives them time to meet these new requirements.
7. Your agency can get help
Unfortunately, FTA will not provide any funding to meet these new reporting requirements, noting in their communications that only minimal tools (Excel, Google Earth) are needed to build GTFS feeds. But agencies of any size (not just rural reporters) can get support from the National Rural Transit Assistance Program (NRTAP), including live GTFS instruction on Thursdays at 1:00 ET at this Zoom link.
No time to build your GTFS feeds? Talk to us!
TransLoc is now offering managed GTFS services from our team of experts. We can manage all aspects of your feed. Talk to us to learn more about how easy it is to have us build and maintain yours.
About the Author
Cyndi Raskin leads the Marketing team at TransLoc. She has over 25 years of experience in the public transit industry, having held leadership positions at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA). She is a passionate advocate for using technology to improve the way people get around, and is committed to making transportation more accessible and affordable for everyone.