The last comprehensive statewide public transit plan was the Iowa In Motion Transit Plan, adopted in 1999. Since that plan, the Iowa DOT has conducted more specific planning efforts including the Iowa Statewide Passenger Transportation Funding Study in 2009, the Iowa Park and Ride System Plan in 2014, and the Iowa DOT Transit Asset Management Group Plan in 2018.
While these plans and studies each have their specific focus, this Plan looks at the public transit system from a broader point of view. This will enable us to take a refreshed look at transit from today’s perspective. This Plan will seek to coordinate planning, programming, and technical assistance statewide to support transit operations at the local level. The goal with the newly updated Plan is to provide specific strategies and improvements that can be implemented and revisited over time.
The process of planning is a collaborative process that is in a constant cycle of being developed, implemented, assessed, and revised. While the process itself is cyclical, one of its major milestones and culminating products is the publication of a long-range plan. This plan is a product that documents the understanding of trends leading up to the current situation, identifies needs and gaps that exist now or in the future, and presents courses of action to address those needs through efficient allocation of resources, while monitoring progress.
Long-range plans, such as the Iowa Public Transit Long-Range Plan and its umbrella multi-modal plan, Iowa in Motion 2045, are updated every five years in order to stay current with the contemporary operating environment, emerging trends, legislation, funding, and technological developments. As situations develop and factors change, the plan also needs to adapt. Results from previous planning efforts and newly collected data help us evaluate, anticipate, and respond to changing needs.
The analysis and forecasts in the early portion of the plan represent a systematic process of looking at variables that influence transit travel demand in Iowa. During this process, we can identify gaps or redundancies in service and work on long-range plans to adjust to changing needs. These strategies are more broadly characterized as “right-sizing” to better align the statewide transit system with the anticipated future needs.
Plan content will include the following.
- Trends: An analysis of demographic, economic, and ridership data and what trends in these areas mean for Iowa’s public transit system.
- Needs: Deficiencies, gaps, and shortfalls identified through condition assessments and stakeholder input related to transit service, vehicle fleet, facilities, transit personnel, and technology.
- Vision: Broad, overarching areas within which strategies will be defined to implement the system plan such as partnering, service, capital improvements, mobility as a service, and funding.
- Strategies: Actions and initiatives that will be utilized by the department and our partners to implement the vision.
- Costs and revenue: An analysis of anticipated capital and operating costs as well as anticipated revenue for the planning horizon.
- Implementation: A discussion related to addressing any funding shortfalls, programming future investments, and continuous performance monitoring.
Aggregated results from the March Transit Needs Survey were shared at the May 2019 Passenger Transportation Summit in Ankeny. At the summit, representatives from transit agencies, local government officials, and members of the public brainstormed possible solutions to the identified needs areas.
Targeted stakeholder groups began meeting regularly in September 2019, including an external stakeholder group that serves as a committee that reflects the public interest and includes broad representation from a diverse spectrum of organizations. An internal stakeholder group represents various units across the department to ensure the opportunity for a wide range of perspectives to provide input for the Plan. Each of these representatives interacts with passenger transportation or is involved with coordinating activities that may impact public transit.
We’re initiating a survey to gather input on the direction of public transit in the state. The survey includes questions about where people want to live and how they want to travel in the future, how they feel the department should approach public transportation services, and what the public thinks of investing and prioritizing components of the transit system. This input will help shape the action plan.
Throughout this winter and through spring 2020, draft analysis and content will be discussed with stakeholders and made available for review. Additional public input will take place as the draft plan comes together, with the goal of finalizing the public transit plan in summer 2020.
The final Plan will become a guide to assist the department in making informed public transit decisions for the state. The strategies and action items within the plan serve as the starting points for what will become the implementation phase of the planning process. As with most of our other long-range plans, the transit plan will be revisited after a 5-year implementation period as the results of the performance monitoring can be analyzed and new guidance, input, and feedback can be gathered. This leads to a renewed effort to update the Plan as the process continues its cycle.
- Public Transit Plan:
The Plan serves as a kind of blueprint of strategies to successfully address identified needs and right-size the public transit system for the future. The analysis that contributes to the development of the Plan helps determine what actions need to be taken and a rough sense of when and what order those actions need to occur. This ensures that the right resources are positioned in the right place, and at the right time.
- Implementation: While the plan outlines the priority of events and milestones that need to be reached, the implementation determines “how” exactly those strategies and actions will be executed. In some ways, this is similar to an architect after they draft up the initial plan and pass it on to the engineer, who then figures out exactly how to build it. We will be taking the blueprint that is the Public Transit Plan and identifying entities to champion specific action items.
- Performance monitoring: Progress of plan implementation is tracked and compared to the general state of the transit system. This allows us to determine if changes in transit performance and any of the factors noted in the initial needs assessment have been impacted by the strategies. The evaluation of the system’s performance is continuous, with minor adjustments occurring as needed as the implementation of the plan continues. The correlation of transit impacts with actions enables the department to measure the effectiveness of the plan’s strategies and action items. This quality control effort helps the department ensure that it is making the best investments at the most ideal times.
- Guidance and input: Feedback is an important aspect of the planning process as it enables the department to execute the plan as effectively as possible. Feedback and input let us know what elements of the plan are working and what elements may need to be adjusted. Using this feedback, we can be agile and responsive to a rapidly changing environment, especially as situations change and technological advancements challenge conventional ideas regarding how public transit can be utilized.