TCRP Synthesis 2021

Hello! Welcome to our TCRP Synthesis working proposal site for 2021. Below, you'll find some of the culled research interests based on committee member conversation. Use the prompts and descriptions below to craft your own TCRP Synthesis proposal and send the results back to the co-Committee Research Chair's (Raymond Chan and Siew Hoon Lim... Go find their email in your inbox or on the TRB site...). They don't have to be perfect - but do flesh them out with detail based on the guidance from TCRP Synthesis.

If you've submitted syntheses in the past, the instructions for 2021 are new and slightly more involved.

AP010 Dates:

  • March 5: Your Draft Proposals are Due

  • March 5-12: Review and Merging similar proposals together and/or Referring to other committees

  • March 19: Final Synthesis Review for Submissions


Copied from the TCRP Synthesis Submission page:

The following factors are considered in the selection process for synthesis topics:

  • The objective of the scope of work is to document current practices in public transportation and/or public transit agencies;

  • The synthesis documents current practice, not best practice; it is not a research project or a guidebook;

  • The topic addresses an area of practice that is widespread and of general interest to public transit;

  • The topic should be timely and critical for expediting delivery, improving the quality, or lowering the cost of agency programs; and

The scope of work aligns with a $45,000 budget and a 10-month turnaround.

Please use the outline below for creating your synthesis topic statement. Upload your topic statement in a Word document to the Submission Portal.

  1. Topic Title

Communicate what the synthesis is about in as few words as possible (i.e., the practices the synthesis will document).

  1. Background

    • One or two paragraphs providing description of the topic to be studied. This section gives context for the proposed topic.

    • A synthesis is appropriate when most agencies engage in a practice but they do it differently (i.e., there are no standard guidelines or regulations).

  2. Synthesis Objective

    • One paragraph is sufficient.

    • Statement of specific practices the synthesis will document.

  3. Information To Be Gathered

    • A bulleted list is recommended.

    • Examples of important aspects of the practices to be documented.

    • The information to be gathered should be factual and not require the opinion of a survey recipient.

  4. How the Information Will Be Gathered

The following activities are typically performed for a synthesis:

          • Literature review

          • A survey of agencies

          • Follow-up interviews with selected agencies for the development of case examples

          • Identification of knowledge gaps and suggestions for research to address those gaps

  1. Information Sources

    • Relevant organizations, individuals, or literature references

    • Literature searches can be conducted on TRID (, which includes the Research in Progress database (

Additional Info for our committee:

  • Other TRB Committees and/or APTA committee/councils that would be interested in this topic (we'll do the reach out!)

  • Potential Panel members that would be really good to sit on this committee (don't be shy! recommend yourself!)

  • Other people that helped author your proposal, including co-workers, friends, family and pets. Follow typical academic guidance for authorship - 'substantial contribution,' not mere 'editorial support.' Remember to ask for permission before adding someone's name!


Am I capable of writing a TCRP Synthesis?

Yes! Besides, the entire committee will be providing you with editorial support. The fact that you're reading this and are interested puts you in a good position to write this. ;)

I've never written an academic paper... can I still write a synthesis?

Yes! Use the resources outlined in "Information Sources" above to get a firm ground of "what's been done," then position your idea to build off the work of others.

Oh no, this problem has been answered!

Has it? Does it have a transit context? Is it widely known? - position your synthesis proposal to respond to this gap.

There's already a TCRP Synthesis on this? Is it recent? Is the synthesis still relevant? I smell a gap here that you can exploit

Why did you strip the best practice phrase off of everything?

TCRP Syntheses are not best practice documents (Best practices are better for the more involved TCRP Problem Statement). They document the current state of the industry to better provide organizations understanding of what each other are doing.

This has a bigger context than just transit... What do I do?

Don't worry - write it anyways. We might move your submission to a more plentiful funding source, but we will continue to acknowledge your work! There are multiple other programs that accept research ideas for funding (like state DOT programs, NCHRP, etc)

Working Synthesis Proposals

Stakeholder Communication

  1. Upgrading policymakers: Can we train and educate our policymakers and decision makers to communicate and set strategic plans to guide the organization?

      • Setting good guidelines on best practices to set strategy at an organizational level

      • Can we teach them stats and risk?

  2. Reliability and non quantitative metrics: Is there a way to measure reliability and other non quantitative metrics in a way that encourages policymaker to consider them too when making decisions? [See “Pandemic-Related”]

      • Many times, there are non quantitative issues that potential riders are concerned about... and many times policymakers are focused on quantitative measures because it's easier to "check off"

  3. Schism between Short Range and Long Range Planning: Is there a way to bridge the gap between short range and long range planning such that they aren't in opposition with each other and they can work in harmony? Getting LR planners to think in shorter time frames with long range options and get short range planners to contribute to long range planning? Is there a middle ground?


Public transit is integral to urban mobility. The hierarchy of decision-making processes of transit operations is complex and often involves policy- and decision-makers who may or may not fully understand the short- and long-term needs and challenges of transit operations, or whose foci and plans may not align with those of the operators/practitioners.

Decision making is a problem-solving, planning and group organizational process that affects not just the day-to-day effectiveness of a transit agency in serving the general public but also the resilience and sustainability of public transit as a vital contributor to the city/regional economies. How is the decision-making process structured? What are the communication channels used by transit agencies and policy-/decision-makers? Is the communication effective? How are research results and information on the ground communicated and used within the process? How do transit agencies overcome barriers in stakeholder communication? How are goals and performance metrics set? What are the strategies used to resolve any conflict of goals/objectives?

The proposed project could (1) synthesize the current common forms of decision-making processes in the transit sector, and (2) systemically document the communication models and working relationships between transit agencies and planners or other stakeholders within the structure of the processes, and how key players within the structure engage each other in decision making and in formulating plans/strategies.

The goals are to learn about what worked (and what didn’t) and to identify effective communication strategies for transit organizational decision making.

Pandemic Related

  1. COVID-19 impacts on modal performance:

    • How do we define new metrics going forward, if existing metrics aren’t particularly helpful at the immediate time (e.g., cost/passenger) [Related to Stakeholder Communication]

    • How do we address and measure equity issues?

    • Using performance measures to understand the scale of impacts and justify/articulate decisions & investments

  2. Key performance indicators in PT: traditionally indicators as operational costs, minimum level of service --> but now different indicators may be needed after COVID.

  3. Since COVID-19, typical measures such as ridership aren’t sufficient because ridership is down - need more nuanced, detailed metrics such as accessibility to jobs, etc. for high-level, public facing / board-facing performance reporting

  4. Public health and transit agencies' current practices and short-/long-term responses to the new "reality" (what has been done?) [Related to Stakeholder Communication on Page 1]


Since the pandemic began, transit ridership plunge has posed unprecedented financial and operational predicaments to public transit agencies which had already suffered chronic ridership declines prior. Transit agencies/operators have taken drastic measures to incorporate public health objectives into operations, but while the lockdown restrictions have eased, ridership has not returned to its pre-pandemic level. Office reopening plans have been delayed in major cities. Even if workers are going back to work, transit agencies and operators must strike a delicate balance between vehicle capacity restrictions (virus transmission) and ridership (fare revenues). Declined ridership can snowball into reductions in cash flow and public funding allocation which can further exacerbate transit budget crunch.

What are the alternative performance measures in light of the pandemic? How has the pandemic changed transit performance targets? Who are the current transit users? How are transit inputs and services allocated? To what extent are transit users satisfied with the level and quality of service provided? How effective are transit public health objectives met? How is transit workforce wellbeing measured?

The proposed project could (1) synthesize the current performance targets or new benchmarks, (2) examine alternative performance measures that are adopted or under consideration by transit agencies, and (3) compare the strengths and goals of these performance metrics for transit service enhancement.

The outcomes of the synthesis study could shed light on industry-wide acceptable metrics in times of crisis, identify “performance” areas/goals that may have long been overlooked, including social equity, environmental outcomes, and the welfare of transit employees.

Managing the "MaaS" purse

  1. Mobility Wallet concept: Agencies subsidizing rides load funds monthly to individual accounts and the client chooses among ride providers or pools funds for transit passes.

    • How can the 130 federal & state/local consolidate & standardize reporting and accounting? [NTD?]

    • How can Mom & Pop neighborhood-based ride providers be included?

    • how do social service providers fund mobility across mobility services?

  2. How do operators deal with pooled/shared funds?


Outsourcing transit service plays an important role in urban mobility. Outsourcing services to private contractors allows a transit agency to tap into the strengths of private companies. Partnerships with and TNCs are increasingly common. However, the implications of contracting and partnerships on transit performance have not been previously examined. How are partnership agreements and third-party contracts formulated? What are the standard terms and stipulations? What is the scope of the contents covered? What are the performance metrics, and how do transit agencies monitor the services performed by contractors?

In addition, in larger regions, multiple operators may exist, each with their own transit value system. For organizations willing to subsidize transit fares, potential recipients might need to manage multiple stored value systems to access transit services. What are some examples of good shared transit stored value systems that enable multimodal and inter jurisdictional trips and how are these systems managed?

The proposed synthesis could provide an overall picture of widespread contracting practices in transit services and help streamline future transit agreement formulations and reduce contracting costs.

Data Management and Use

  1. How do organizations communicate information and data intra and interagency?

  2. How do organizations increase Information Velocity for Decision Making

  3. How are real-time data used to extract information for operational decision making?


Jumping off of SG-18's discussion on the state of data governance at transit agencies, this synthesis seeks to solve the problem of communication - how do agencies manage communication of information and associated datasets? Ideally, organizations act as one unit with all data free and clear within itself, but often times, there are internal barriers that prevent the implementation of data democratization, an idea where organizations reduce or eliminate barriers to data.

From survey of participants in AP090 Transit Data's 2021 committee meeting, one common theme was the lack of transparency to access data (with access relegated to reports or cleaned data). In breakout discussions in AP010 Transit Management and Performance, participants identified the need to implement organizational wide policies for data access enhance current measurement work. However, participants in both committees highlight gatekeeping as a problem when faced with access issues and highlight gatekeeping as a solution to prevent erroneous uses of data throughout the agency.

Even without policy differences, there exists multiple methods to transmit and receive data. Before the advent of modern computing, many data sets and reports were authored and delivered via hard copies. Now, reports can be delivered electronically can be completely 'self service.' In addition, data can be retrieved via api and direct database access, which greatly empowers users to code and automate tools to improve efficiency. While some data are historical and longitudinal in nature (such as ridership and historic AVL), some are real time, urgent, and need to be act upon quickly. How agencies handle the increasing breadth and depth of data while maintaining lean work staff is critical in developing tactics that respond to true negative events, even in an increasingly noisy environment.

Other Performance Management Topics

  1. Best practices for creating contracts to hold third parties accountable and what are the performance metrics that should be written into those contracts. How do you build the performance measures to monitor service performance on an ongoing basis as well?


Many organizations are adding additional metrics to their contracts with third parties to enable increased accountability. How are these performance metrics written and how are they enforced? Many times, regulatory bodies have limited staff to provide oversight and enforcement on third party providers.