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GAO: Ride-sharing data needs more consistent reporting

Cities have been working with ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to improve public transportation options. To encourage these types of partnership, the Federal Transit Administration launched the Mobility on Demand Sandbox grant program in 2016 and awarded $8 million to 11 community projects that would incorporate the latest technology into their public transit services.

To monitor the program’s progress, the awardees are required to report financial and operational data to the National Transit Database. However, local transit agencies reported difficulties gathering data from ride-sharing companies and some confusion regarding whether and how to report on-demand service data, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

One source of confusion was related to requirements that transit agencies only need to provide data to the NTD for public transportation services, which are defined as regular, continuing ride-sharing transportation services open to the general public or a segment of  the population. That definition excludes intercity passenger rail services provided by Amtrak, intercity buses and charter buses. Transportation services must also be open to the general public to be considered and not limited to certain group like an Uber driver who can refuse additional passengers.

In addition, the local transit agency may not be required to report data to the NTD if it doesn’t directly operate the service. Plus, transit agencies were interpreting the NTD guidance on entering data from their on-demand services differently. 

Another component of the problem is that Uber and Lyft representatives told GAO that their  companies were uncomfortable  sharing riders’ personally identifiable information with a public entity without consent because they believed it to be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. 

If local transit agencies are not reporting the same data the same way, it raises  “questions about whether NTD data accurately reflect the status of the U.S. public transportation system, a key goal of the NTD,” GAO said. Inaccurate data will also affect the FTA’s ability to effectively track its progress in achieving goals, and the apportionment of certain grant funds to local transit agencies could also be affected.

To help improve the quality of the data in the NTD, the GAO recommended that FTA gather and publicly share examples of how various local transit agencies complied with federal requirements. The report also recommended FTA determine which on-demand services qualify as public transportation based on the statutory definition and disseminate information  to clarify for local agencies whether and  how to report data from these services into the NTD.

Lastly, the GAO recommended gathering and publicly sharing information on transit partnerships, including how transit agencies and their ride-sharing partners exchange information as well as the minimum data needed from private partners to facilitate  NTD reporting.

FTA concurred with GAO’s recommendations to improve data information sharing for the NTD.

Read the full report here.

Posted by Sara Friedman on Jul 31, 2018 at 12:43 PM


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