Rural Transit Fleet Mix and Vehicle Size Decision Trees

Finding the right size vehicles for rural public transit services and the right mix of vehicles for an agency’s fleet is an increasingly significant challenge for rural public transit agencies. Those providers must accommodate varying numbers of riders with varying needs at different hours during the day. For example, Medicaid’s integrated setting rule helped move persons with disabilities out of sheltered workshops and into employment settings and integrated those persons throughout the community. Many rural public transit agencies offer employment or medical shuttles from one community to another. As a result, the need to determine the optimal size and type of vehicles is becoming more prevalent. Rather than the typical 18 passenger light-duty bus (a standard transit bus size among rural transit providers), transit agencies must consider vans with less capacity or medium-sized buses with higher seating counts. The decision of which size bus to purchase can be particularly challenging for small, rural transit agencies since funding for replacement vehicles is limited. When replacement vehicle funding is available from the Federal Transit Administration, the decision remains difficult since local matching funds are required. Another factor weighing into this decision is the length of time a vehicle will be a part of a rural transit agency’s fleet.  Many of the vehicles procured by rural public transit agencies are kept two to three times past their federal useful life before replacement funds are available, meaning the size of the vehicle chosen has to be useful well into the future. The situation is further complicated by longer procurement times due to supply chain interruptions; changes in the energy and fuel choices anticipated to be available; fluctuating availability of transportation network companies such as Lyft and Uber; service areas that cross state lines; and higher costs due to inflation. It is vital for rural transit agencies to know how to “right-size” their transit fleet mix, given the kinds of services delivered, markets being served, geographic constraints, likely number of passengers, crush loads in resort areas, facilities available, and changing availability of drivers eligible for commercial driver’s licenses. State DOTs, through which federal funds flow to rural transit agencies, would benefit from understanding effective practices from other states for determining rural transit fleet mixes as they assist their own transit providers.  Research is needed to support state DOT transit department and rural public transit agencies as they position themselves to plan and implement more effective services going forward, taking into consideration service planning, route structure, ancillary support equipment, maintenance capabilities, and technology. The rural nature of the intended audiences calls for distilling the research undertaken into decision trees that can be readily used by the small staff that wear multiple hats.  The objectives of this research are to develop decision trees and a brief guide to support state DOTs and rural public transit providers as they decide what vehicles (size, capacity, and mix) will best serve their communities. A series of case studies and a review of effective practices should inform the development of the decision trees and guide.  This research can provide significant benefits for transit offices of state DOTs and their transit providers and will help answer the following pressing industry questions: (1) What types of vehicles are procured in different regions? What are the reasons for those procurements? (2) How do federal public transportation and health care-related policies affect vehicle procurement decisions? (3) What are the costs associated with those procurements? (4) What are the sources for funding those procurements, particularly local matching funds? (5) What challenges do rural agencies face in securing financial commitments from local sources that directly impact a purchase decision? (6) How are demographic changes in the populations from which drivers and riders are drawn affecting vehicle procurement decisions? (7) What lessons are learned from this process? (8) What vehicles are appropriate for the required services? (9) What mix of vehicles is appropriate for any given agency?


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $250000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 08-144

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Brooks, Mike

  • Performing Organizations:

    North Dakota State University

    Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Fargo, ND  United States 
  • Principal Investigators:

    Mattson, Jeremy

  • Start Date: 20231127
  • Expected Completion Date: 20251126
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01739629
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 08-144
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: May 20 2020 9:02AM