Surveys & Data Collection
RLS & Associates, Inc. (RLS) has more than three decades of experience in transit planning and human services transportation coordination, including experience gained in major transportation provider surveys conducted in large urban and small rural areas, and everything in between. Its extensive experience has made it possible for RLS to establish an excellent record of survey and data collection from which to build its many service and operational plans and assessments. Without accurate and reliable data, transit systems, human service agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and local governments cannot accurately assess their service, plan improvements, or make service adjustments.
Data is collected through a variety of means, which are determined based on the transportation goals of the local community. RLS has discovered that the key to a successful survey/data collection effort is starting with a comprehensive plan for survey distribution, administration, follow-up methodology, and survey management. Stakeholder interviews and surveys can be conducted one-on-one, either in a personal meeting or on-board vehicles, as well as via focus groups and community involvement meetings. Survey instruments are designed with standardized, clear, and concise questions to yield results that can be quantified for the most accurate findings. RLS also uses state-of-the-art online survey instruments, where results can be easily reviewed, confirmed, and tabulated. To ensure that the broadest segment of the community’s population is reached, RLS employs a two-pronged approach to data surveys. (1) RLS designs an online survey that is made available via a variety of links published on agency and local government websites, social media pages of local organizations, in organizational or church/faith-based organization newsletters, and in utility bills, etc. The survey link is also distributed via email to consumers, students, peer agencies, and/or staff of stakeholders. (2) Printed, paper surveys are made available in local businesses, medical offices, and human service agency waiting rooms; case managers are also asked to distribute the surveys to consumers. RLS staff then enter the data obtained in this manner into the survey database for analysis.
RLS analyzes an area’s demand for transportation services through demographic surveys, public meetings, and transit propensity (the likelihood of a community’s residents to use available transit service) calculations via an established and nationally-accepted formula. RLS uses the results from such analysis to develop plans for agencies to meet the current and anticipated demand for service through the initiation of new or expanded transit service.
The demographics of an area are strong indicators of demand for transportation service. RLS collects and summarizes relevant demographic data in its area of interest to provide accurate conclusions regarding the area’s transit demand. The demographics RLS analyzes include population density, older adult population, individuals with disabilities, household income, impoverished population, zero vehicle households, and employment. Each demographic is critical to understanding an area’s need for transportation: for example, older adults are most likely to use transportation services when they are unable to drive, choose not to drive, or have limited retirement income, thereby portraying transportation services as a practical and cost-effective alternative to owning a vehicle.
Needs assessments are an important tool in any service evaluation, transit plan, or feasibility study. In order to accurately and adequately assess current and anticipated transit needs, RLS contacts transportation service providers in the area of interest and requests information about their service—their demand, details regarding their operation, etc.; RLS also contacts non-transportation providers who use community transportation services so that RLS can understand how the existing services meet, or do not meet community needs. This provides RLS with an idea of all the transportation currently available and the gaps in services, and acts as a benchmark for the remainder of the assessment. RLS also widely distributes passenger satisfaction surveys on board transit vehicles and in high traffic community locations, such as public libraries. Once data is collected from the service providers and the public, RLS analyzes the data patterns and uses the results to determine the community’s transportation needs and gaps in existing transportation resources. Public meetings help RLS to further determine each need’s priority level, which is then documented in reports along with suggestions and action plans to meet each need.
On-Board Passenger Surveys
RLS has developed a go-to method for conducting On-board passenger surveys. These serve as one method to accurately determine passenger demographics, potential unmet needs, transportation habits, and passenger satisfaction of the existing transit service. Via these personal surveys, passengers are encouraged to share their transportation experiences and offer potential changes that would better meet their needs. By meeting the passengers where they are instead of requesting them to attend a meeting, access a survey via a computer, etc., RLS obtains more data from which to draw more accurate and beneficial conclusions. The data is documented and analyzed by collection experts and the results are then used to draw conclusions regarding the passengers’ opinions of the transportation service and the current and potential passengers’ unmet needs and/or gaps in the transportation services already provided. Service adjustment recommendations are then developed from these conclusions.
RLS assists small and medium-sized transit systems with on-off passenger counts (boardings and alightings) as part of general service assessments, route optimization studies, and customer satisfaction surveys. Counts can be at the system, route, trip, and segment or stop levels of data and are used to measure system and/or route efficiency and effectiveness to guide service decisions, i.e., service adjustments, expansions, etc.
Public Involvement Process: Public Participation, Outreach, and Involvement; Meeting Facilitation
The Federal Transit Administration requires a public involvement process for a number of reasons, including but not limited to project development, service and fare adjustments (increases/decreases), and development and implementation of locally developed coordinated public transit-human services transportation plans. State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and local communities and transit systems are given a wide latitude in developing effective public involvement processes that meet the entity’s specific needs while ensuring adequate participation by the public and meeting Federal requirements.
The success of a public participation process can largely be determined by how thoroughly and thoughtfully it is planned. And, agencies must remember that the goal in any public participation process is to obtain and use public and stakeholder input; it is not to seek buy-in to an already planned project, or to confirm assumptions or decisions that have already been made.
The goal of public involvement is to better understand the public so that projects can be developed to accurately address unmet needs today and as communities change and develop. Stakeholders must be encouraged to participate—completing surveys, attendance at meetings, speaking up—so that transit agencies receive effective input to guide their decision-making process. RLS is experienced in creating a safe and open environment for stakeholder dialogue as an effective way to both get public input and help the public learn about each other’s viewpoints. Breaking large stakeholder groups into a smaller more manageable size is an effective way to encourage dialogue.
And, let’s not forget the stakeholders themselves. To make public participation as meaningful as possible, it is important for all stakeholders to fully understand the decision process being used. RLS can assist in this area by creating a visual representation of this process to ensure that both internal and external stakeholders have the same understanding and expectations regarding the decision process and how and when public input will be obtained and how they (the stakeholders) will be kept informed throughout the process.
RLS stands ready to assist agencies in developing clear objectives for not only the public involvement process in general, but for each individual step of the process. RLS then works with agencies to choose those specific tools best designed to achieve those objectives. These tools include, but are not limited to, public meetings and focus groups; on-line and paper surveys; social media; and one-on-one interviews. RLS documents each step of the process to ensure that all input and feedback is captured for evaluation and analysis.
Research—National, State, and Local
RLS and its professional staff can conduct research on a wide variety of topics at the National, State, and local levels to assist in the analysis and assessment of programs and services, identification of issues and challenges, and the formulation of recommendations and solutions. At the National level, RLS has conducted research projects on such topics as coordinated transportation, non-emergency medical transportation, State DOT administration of Federal Transit Administration programs, vehicle purchases, transit driver bathroom breaks, and more. At the State level, RLS has assisted DOTs with the review and analysis of such topics as the funding and provision of human service transportation, FTA program administration, etc. Finally, RLS has assisted local transit systems with research regarding fare media, policies, and structures; and driver salaries.
Just as transit agencies must encourage public involvement and use feedback from the public in the alterations to and developments of transit plans, so too must agencies involve their stakeholders. RLS conducts an in-depth analysis of existing public, private, and human service agency transportation resources in its clients’ communities. RLS facilitates meetings and surveys for stakeholders to voice their feedback on the agency’s effectiveness. RLS then documents all identified needs/gaps in transportation and existing transportation resources. Next, RLS works with local stakeholders to identify the coordinated transportation planning priorities to be implemented over the time period determined by the client. Finally, RLS documents the goals, priorities, and strategies into a final, locally developed plan ready approval and adopted by the appropriate governing board(s).
Kim AngelAssociateMs. Kim Angel has more than 25 years of direct experience managing transit operations, service contracts, grants at the federal, state, and local level, and a diverse range of public transportation projects. As an Associate at RLS, Kim will be in...
Megan MathenyAssociateMs. Matheny works out of the North Carolina office (located in Wilmington, NC). She joined RLS in May 2022 bringing with her 12 years of experience working in the public transportation industry. Ms. Matheny has 11 years of direct experience...
Troy WhiteAssociateMr. Troy White was formally employed by Janus Developmental Services’ public transit service, Hamilton County Express. He brings 12 years of transportation service and training skills to the table and will provide the knowledge and expertise...
Darcy DownsAssociateDarcy Downs is a Transit Planner with 14 years of experience in community transit, multimodal transit planning, and university transportation. She is highly accomplished in data analysis and database management, especially in Microsoft Access and...
Bethany RennerAssociateMs. Bethany Renner works from the Dayton, OH Headquarters, having joined RLS & Associates, Inc. after years of work in charitable giving, community outreach, and project management. Bethany will initially be working as an Associate for the...
Amy RastAssociateMs. Amy Rast works out of the RLS Lyndonville, Vermont office, having joined RLS & Associates, Inc. after a successful career with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans). Ms. Rast has over 30 years of transportation experience including...
Russ Parish Associate Mr. Russ Parish works out of the RLS Arkansas Office and manages State RTAP projects for New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. He is also a member of the RLS Drug and Alcohol Compliance Monitoring team. An accomplished and...
Robbie L. Sarles President Ms. Robbie Sarles, President, and founder of RLS & Associates, Inc., has worked over 41 years in the transit industry in progressively responsible positions, in both public and private sectors. Since founding RLS in 1987 in Dayton, Ohio,...
Mr. Ray BoylstonSenior AssociateMr. Ray Boylston works out of the RLS Wake Forest, North Carolina office. He has over 30 years of experience in transit planning, management, operations, compliance, and finance at the state, county, and municipal levels,...
Laura BrownChief of Business Development/Director of Planning Initiatives Ms. Laura Brown works in San Antonio, Texas and is the Director of Planning Initiatives for RLS’ coordination and planning projects as well as the Chief of Business Development. Ms. Brown has a...
Rich GarrityDirector of Compliance Initiatives Mr. Rich Garrity is located in the RLS Wilmington, North Carolina office. He has over 44 years of experience in transit and paratransit planning, operations and management evaluation, coordinated...
Julie SchaferDirector of State Initiatives Ms. Julie Schafer is located in the Dayton Headquarters. A former Section 5311 transit manager of a seven-county public transit system in rural Indiana, she has over 22 years of experience, 15 years of that in transit system...
Kelly Shawn Senior Associate Mr. Kelly Shawn is located in the RLS Alexandria, Virginia office. With over 36 years in the transit industry, Mr. Shawn is an experienced trainer, facilitator, and project manager with extensive expertise in small urban, rural, and tribal...
Christy CampollSenior AssociateMs. Campoll currently serves in assignments as Project Manager, Lead Planner, and Researcher for RLS’ planning team, as well as Reviewer for compliance engagements. A former transportation vice president, Ms. Campoll...
Zach KincadeChief of Administration/Office ManagerMr. Zach Kincade is the Dayton Headquarters Office Manager, and has over 15 years of experience as a project manager and Lead Analyst for RLS data collection and survey analysis projects. He also provides...
Victoria (Vicky) WarnerSenior AssociateMs. Vicky Warner is located in the RLS Columbus, Indiana Office where she is responsible for office administration and daily operations. She is an experienced transit manager and trainer, with over 29 years of...
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