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Behind the scenes with MBTA data.

We are proud to release the 2019 version of Tracker.

Tracker is our performance management report, which is our response to Chapter 25 of the Acts of 2009. In other words, and according to the Tracker website, “Tracker is the report card for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to our stakeholders, including state and local elected officials, DOT administrators, and all who use and rely on our network.” The data in Tracker come directly from each department, which our Office of Performance Management & Innovation (OPMI) uses to create a yearly report that acts as the central location for all MassDOT performance data. Though the responsibility of Tracker remains the same, OPMI strives to improve the  versatility and interactivity of Tracker each year.

                                         OPMI Improvement Process

The implementation of performance management helps improve project and program delivery and informs investment decisions, as shown in the figure above. Performance management is iterative and must be an on-going process to be effective. This process also links to the Capital Improvement Program, which determines how resources are allocated across Divisions, and which projects are prioritized for funding.

Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack said, “The Baker-Polito Administration is investing historic levels of funding into transportation systems throughout Massachusetts, with the goal of better enabling people to reach families, friends, jobs, businesses, and other opportunities. We are pleased to provide this resource which illustrates recent progress in improving our roads, bridges, airports, railways, bikeways, and the performance of bus, subway, rail, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.”

Since 2010, Tracker has gone above and beyond the mandated legislative requirements, making the information easily accessible and digestible. Each of the four divisions within MassDOT (Highway, Aeronautics, Rail and Transit, and the RMV) and the MBTA has a scorecard with metrics tracked year over year. Interactive maps allow users to visualize areas of jurisdiction and the charts show change over time to easily indicate performance improvement or decline.   For each division and the MBTA, you will find metrics arranged in the following categories: Customer Experience, Safety, System Condition, Budget & Capital Performance, and Healthy & Sustainable Transportation. The website has all of the data, while the pdf contains summarized information, available in scorecards. The Tracker site allows users to take a deeper dive into the data and shows trends up to six years, whereas the scorecard only has change in performance from previous year. An “Other Resources” tab contains links to plans and reports referenced throughout the Tracker site.

For MassDOT’s tenth anniversary, Tracker, highlights advancements, while acknowledging where performance did not improve for 2019. This is the second year in which Tracker is available in a web-based and interactive platform. New for 2019 are MBTA performance measures for fatalities, injuries, and derailments, additional context on bicycle and pedestrian crashes within Highway safety, and conditional baselines for all MassDOT’s rail assets within the Rail and Transit Division. 

For scorecards and a high-level overview of the data, view the pdf here.

 

This year, MassDOT released new Statewide Bicycle and Pedes­­trian Plans with the goal of increasing the comfort, safety, and convenience of biking and walking for all people. The plans lay out a vision that all people, including new riders, will be able to take at least some of their reasonably distanced “everyday trips”, or non-recreational trips, on high-comfort bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The plans define a reasonable distance as a half-mile for walking trips, three miles for non-work bicycle trips, and six miles for bicycle commute trips.

One key piece of both plans is making it easier for people to access transit. Active modes (like biking and walking) should be viable options for people accessing a transit stations.

To measure the success of the plan at making active modes viable, the plans published the following metrics: 

  • Percentage of trips under 6 miles beginning or ending at a transit station that were made by bike. (Bicycle Plan)
  • Percentage of short trips beginning or ending at a transit station that were made by walking. (Pedestrian Plan) 

This analysis focuses on the modes of transportation that passengers used to access major MBTA stations. While the plans reference the state as a whole, the MBTA is the only agency for which we have data on access modes. Additionally, it is unlikely that any mode besides walking is used to access neighborhood bus stops because 96% of bus trips are part of a journey that the person began by walking (Systemwide Passenger Survey) and the MBTA is the only agency to offer non-bus service. 

This analysis relied heavily on the MBTA’s 2017 Systemwide Passenger Survey, which asked riders on all modes and lines to report on a specific trip taken on the system. Respondents identified their approximate origin, the station they accessed, and how they arrived at the station.  

Methodology

The data sources used for this analysis are as follows: the 2017 MBTA Systemwide Passenger Survey, the MBTA GTFS stops file, and the MassGIS Seaports file. 

It is important to note a few major decisions made pre-analysis that affected the results. We used the distance to the closest station even if that was not the station accessed because it was more philosophically in line with giving people the option to bike or walk. For example, if someone is driving to a farther Commuter Rail station because of parking constraints, parking costs, or traffic, we do not necessarily want to ensure them a direct biking path to a farther station. By providing safe and comfortable infrastructure to their nearest Commuter Rail station, we are giving them an option to use active transportation, which negates the parking issues that force them to drive farther. Additionally, we used a three-mile threshold instead of the original six-mile threshold published in the bicycle plan for this analysis to account for a realistic proportion of travel time dedicated to biking for a trip that also includes transit. Below are the steps we took to produce this analysis.

The analysis process itself was relatively simple. We started by mapping all of the applicable MBTA Rapid Transit, Commuter Rail, Silver Line, and Ferry stations. Using ArcGIS’s network analyst feature, we created half-mile and three mile buffers around the station along the road network. 

We then looked at the responses from the Systemwide Passenger Survey, and identified the relevant trips that started with one of the above modes. From that filtered dataset, we geocoded the origins of reported trips and identified which trips began within a “walkable” distance, and which trips began within a “bikeable” distance. The map below shows a sample of Wakefield residents and their chosen access modes. Those inside the red outline are within a half-mile of the Wakefield Commuter Rail station. 

Wakefield Station walkshed

 

Results

Nearly 95% of trips that start within a half-mile of a transit station begin with walking. Only about 5% happen with a car-based mode, including carpooling and ridesharing.

When you look at trips that start within a bikeable distance of transit (between a half-mile and three miles), nearly half are made walking. However, only 4% are made on bike. Just over 45% are made in a car. There is a big opportunity for all agencies who own and operate roads to improve street design and create bicycle infrastructure to help make some of those people who choose to drive switch over to a 15-minute or shorter bike ride instead. 

   Trips starting within half-mile (walkable)  Trips starting between half-mile and three miles (bikeable)
 Walked  94.8%  49.9%
 Biked  0.7%  4.1%
 Car-based travel  4.5%  46.0%

 

Equity

The Bicycle and Pedestrian plans put a big focus on equity in order to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of bicycling and walking are equitably distributed. They identify several specific populations of interest. During metric development, we incorporated equity checks into every measure to understand how well different populations are served by bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the state. As a part of this analysis, we also looked at how respondents belonging to equity groups accessed transit as well. We analyzed the access patterns for people of color, low income people, people under 18 and over 65, and no-car households. Due to sample size issues in the Passenger Survey, we were unable to compile access mode results for people with limited English proficiency or people with disabilities. The table below summarizes the results of our equity analysis for walkable distances (0 - 0.5 miles). 

 

   Minority  Low-           Income  No Car  65 or over &   under 18
 Walked  94.5%  97.5%  98.4%  92.1%
 Biked  0.6%  0.7%  0.9%  1.8%
 Car-based      travel  4.9%  1.8%  0.7%  6.1%

 

The equity analysis results for some other metrics in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans are relatively easy to interpret – for example, if there are fewer sidewalks in low-income neighborhoods, we view that result as inequitable. However, these results are a bit more complicated. When a higher percentage of people in low-income communities walk to transit, it is not necessarily is a sign of transportation equity, but could be a reflection of fewer opportunities for travelers who may sometimes legitimately need to access transit without walking. Treating these results as providing context allows us to interpret implications one by one, for example indicating a greater need for pedestrian infrastructure that connects low-income neighborhoods to transit. 

Conclusion

There are several other measures that we are using as a part of this project; we wanted to give an example of one of the simple ones to illustrate the underlying complexity of measuring access to transit. Future blog posts will cover some of these additional measures. 

We are excited to announce our new Open Data Portal!

The MBTA has published the MBTA Ridership and Service Statistics, also known as “The Blue Book” since 1988. According to the Blue Book from 2005,

“The MBTA receives frequent inquiries from customers, students, peer transit providers, government agencies, community organizations, transportation enthusiasts, and the media for information regarding its operations, and this book is intended to address these needs. Additionally, this book serves as a management and analytical tool for MBTA staff.”  

The most recent Blue Book edition was released in 2014 and contained data on ridership, bus speeds, track distances, fleet rosters, and more. However, the Blue Book has largely lacked consistency in updates. Moreover, because of the Blue Book’s print format, published data has only existed in an aggregated, non-interactive form, and has failed to include extensive historical data.

As demand for more up to date data increases, and to address the shortcomings of previous Blue Books, the offices of Performance Management & Innovation and Transportation Planning have worked to create an online open data portal. The portal, which went public on Monday, October 7, is designed to be easily navigable and searchable by mode type and data category. Many of the datasets on the portal had previously been available on other platforms, such as our performance API, though users will now have the ability to download customized datasets using an in-program filtering option . Metrics on reliability and performance are available as well as historical data about the MBTA’s financials, assets, and system information. New data will be added in the future.

Though we will no longer be publishing new Blue Book versions, the MBTA Open Data Portal provides the same service. The portal allows users to download data directly from the site and view reported figures within applications and maps on the portal. Datasets that are GTFS-compatible are marked so and can be downloaded for outside visual development. Data exists on the portal in its non-aggregated form to increase options for the user, but can be aggregated by the user upon download to mimic the reporting of the previous Blue Book editions.

How To Use

View all datasets with mode (rapid transit, bus, etc.) or category (ridership, performance, etc.) tags by clicking on the icons under the mode and category headers. Alternately, you can explore all public MBTA datasets by searching for keywords in the dataset title, summary, tags, or description using the search bar at the top of the page. Clicking inside the search bar and pressing enter without entering text will populate all public datasets within the portal. Under the “Overview” tab of a dataset, you can view the description, data dictionary, data limitations, attributes, related data, and metadata. The download and API buttons on the right side of the page allow for download format selection. Under the “Data” tab, you can sort and filter the records by any of the attributes and then download only those filtered records. The “API Explorer” tab shows the query functionality and query URL for the particular dataset.