Mineta Transportation Institute Publishes Report on Influence of Service Planning Decisions on Rail Transit Success or Failure

You are here

Researchers Brown and Thompson analyzed 11 major US metropolitan areas to determine what makes a successful, productive system.
December 4, 2009
San José, CA

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has published The Influence of Service Planning Decisions on Rail Transit Success or Failure. This study by Jeffrey Brown, PhD, and Gregory Thompson, PhD, examines 11 US metropolitan areas with populations of 1-5 million to understand why rail transit systems in some areas are successful and others are not. Of particular interest is how service planning decisions facilitate transit success.

The research found that successful transit systems articulate a clear, multidestination vision for regional transit; rely on rail transit as the system’s backbone; recognize the importance of travel outside the central business district; encourage transfers to reach more destinations; recognize that rail transit alone is not enough to guarantee success; and recognize the importance of serving regional destinations.

“Based on our definitions of ridership success and productivity success, two metropolitan areas emerge as leaders: Portland and San Diego,” said Dr. Brown. “Portland ended the researched period with the largest riding habit and percentage growth in riding habit, along with a very large increase in productivity. San Diego’s riding habit increased by almost 30 percent, almost tied with Denver and Atlanta, but lower than Portland and Miami.”

For this study’s purposes, riding habit success means that transit patronage (passenger miles) keeps pace with or exceeds population growth. Service productivity success means that a metropolitan area’s transit agencies experience productivity increases or declines less severe than the national average. (National service productivity fell 14% from 1984-2004).

Metropolitan areas included in the research were Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Portland OR, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and San José CA.


JEFFREY BROWN, PhD, is Assistant Professor and Master’s Program Director in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. He holds a PhD in Urban Planning from UCLA. His research explores the role of public transit in decentralized environments, the influence of finance and professionalization on the evolution of transportation planning and development of the American freeway, and topics in transportation finance and state and national transportation policy. He has published articles on these topics in several professional journals.

GREGORY THOMPSON, PhD, joined the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University in 1988, after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hagley Museum and Library, doing historical research about the Pennsylvania Railroad. He has been a transportation planner at the metropolitan and state levels in the US and abroad. He has published in professional and academic literature on transportation topics. His book, The Passenger Train in the Motor Age: California 1910–1941, was published in 1993 by Ohio State University Press. His major research interest is studying the role of public transportation in auto-dominated societies, historically and today.


The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The institute is funded by Congress through the US DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The US DOT selected MTI as a national “Center of Excellence” following a 2002 competition.

The Institute has a Board of Trustees whose internationally-respected members represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from a board assessment of the industry’s unmet needs and led directly to choosing the San José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. MTI conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer focusing on multi-modal surface transportation policy and management issues.


Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: mineta-institute@sjsu.edu