New federal performance rules for MPOs, explained


New federal performance measurement requirements for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) like the TPB mean new data and evaluation will provide additional ways to assess the transportation system’s performance.

The last two federal surface transportation laws, MAP-21 and the FAST Act, included provisions requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to craft new rules for state departments of transportation and MPOs to collect data and set targets to support performance based decision-making. These new rules were published January 18, 2017.

These new Performance-Based Planning and Programming rules require states and MPOs to measure, forecast, and set targets to address issues like road safety, bridge condition, the condition of buses and train cars, and many other measures to ensure that states, transit agencies, and MPOs are making and carrying out plans to meet important national goals.

The new federal performance measures fall into three main categories—safety, maintenance, and performance. Safety may be the most self-explanatory. These measures track highway and transit deaths and injuries and include transit incidents like fires or crashes. Maintenance measures look at the age of transit fleets or the condition of roads and bridges. System performance measures look at highway congestion and reliability, freight movement and economic vitality, and environmental sustainability including air quality.


Let’s take a deeper look at the three categories of performance measures now being implemented.

Safety Measures

Safety measures include both highway safety and transit safety. MPOs and states must report both the number and rate of fatalities and injuries on the roads. They are also required to report the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. The absolute numbers help identify trends, while looking at rates helps account for underlying population growth. For transit safety, MPOs and transit agencies also need to report fatalities and injuries for transit users and workers, and they must report on derailments, collisions, fires, or evacuations, as well.

Although states have collected highway safety data before, the new federal rules create common definitions for the measures across the country. Previously, MPOs were not required to report this data. The new rule requires them to do so, with the aim of giving regional decisionmakers better tools for assessing safety at a regional scale.

The TPB has turned to its state partners to learn about best practices in reporting on safety data. Recently, the TPB invited staff from the Maryland Highway Safety Office, part of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), to present on how the agency has set targets for highway safety. With an ultimate goal of zero deaths on Maryland roadways, the agency set year-by-year decreasing target numbers to work toward reaching that goal. These examples will help the TPB develop a methodology for determining regional safety targets and help inform member jurisdictions as they provide input and guidance through the process.

(Maryland Highway Safety Office)


The new rules also focus on road conditions and the condition of transit fleets.

To assess road conditions, states and MPOs will have to set targets for the percentage of pavement that’s in good or poor condition. The rules include a similar requirement for bridges.

These measures will help the states and the region determine how well plans ensure that roads and bridges are being maintained. TPB staff have already collected data to assess the condition of pavement and bridges in the region but will update their analysis once the bridge and pavement rule is finalized in March.

Preliminary analysis of bridge conditions based on an earlier version of the rules shows how the data can be displayed. Once the new rule is in effect in March 2017, a new analysis can be completed.
Preliminary analysis of bridge conditions based on an earlier version of the rules shows how the data can be displayed. Once the new rule is in effect in March 2017, a new analysis can be completed. (TPB)

When it comes to transit, transit providers and MPOs will have to report on the age of the fleet of transit vehicles like buses and railcars with targets for percentages of the fleet in good repair. The buses and railcars aren’t the only part of the transit system, of course, so stations, rails, and other facilities will also be assessed. This set of measures is referred to in the federal regulations as Transit Asset Management.

Transit providers have already begun to report their Transit Asset Management assessments. In a recent presentation to technical staff from around the region, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) showed how it has assessed the age of fleets statewide and set goals for state-of-good-repair for transit fleets. Similar to Maryland’s highway safety information, DRPT’s process will help the TPB and its member jurisdictions figure out how best to assess the region’s transit fleets and facilities as well.

System Performance: Reliability, freight, congestion, and air quality

Safety and maintenance alone don’t tell the whole story. The federal government also introduced rules for how MPOs and state DOTs assess performance on the roads including reliability, congestion, freight movement, and environmental sustainability.

New reliability rules require states and MPOs to count “person-miles” traveled as opposed to “vehicle-miles” traveled on both interstate highways and non-interstate roads. The change will consider how well a corridor is moving people, not just vehicles, which accounts for smoother and more predictable travel times thanks to people riding in carpools, buses, or trains.

MPOs and states will also have to change how they measure congestion. In the past, a common practice compared the time it took a vehicle to move through a stretch of road in free-flowing traffic—like the middle of the night—to peak hour congestion—like the height of rush hour. In the final rules, this measure has been dropped. The peak hour is still important but the new measure looks at that peak hour of excessive delay on a per-capita basis. The change means that moving vehicles as quickly as possible is not the only way to address congestion. The new rule takes into account carpooling, transit, and other modes that move a greater number of people more reliably through a corridor with lower emissions.

Freight movement is another key goal area. Since ensuring that freight can move reliably through the transportation system is key for a strong economy, the new rules require a measure of truck travel time reliability across the region.

In addition to the travel and freight rules two other rules target congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ). One new measure is the annual hours of peak-hour excessive delay and the other is the percent of non-single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) travel. This second measure recognizes that non-SOV travel can reduce congestion and emissions to help meet air quality goals.

Next Steps

For some of these measures, transit providers and states have already been collecting data to report. Over the next year, the TPB will collect data for each of the new measures and begin reporting on those findings. Then it will use these data to forecast future performance, with the ultimate goal of setting regional targets.

The new requirements expand the types of measurements used to assess performance and institute formal target-setting. The goal of doing so is to create a set of common national goals for all states and metropolitan areas to work toward, achieve more consistency in the data nationwide, and to improve transparency by establishing a formal reporting system. In future years, reports on performance targets are required and will aid decision-makers in making data-supported investments in the transportation system.

This post has been updated. An earlier version did not accurately describe the performance measure for freight movement and economic vitality.

Cover photo by MrTinDC on Flickr

Regional Safe Routes to School meeting showcased efforts to make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school
How TLC helped jumpstart a trail project in Prince George's County