Written by: M A Saeed, Ph.D. & Paul Eder, Ph.D. | Read the full COE Data Insight here

COE Data Insights: Visualizing Trends in Safety & Security Time Series Data from Federal Transit Administration

The public transportation system in the United States is severely underutilized and stigmatized outside of major cities. The majority of public transit systems are used by a tiny fraction of the population of the cities served, with the exception of New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and a few others. Following a string of high-profile accidents, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which is under the US Department of Transportation (DOT), was tasked with improving safety measures for public transportation. Now, FTA is in high demand to develop a data-driven plan which not only maximizes public transportation use, but also improves safety and security for passengers.

In this article, we’ll use the Safety & Security Time Series Data set provided by FTA to analyze and understand the uses and safety of public transportation across the US. This data is updated monthly and is accessible to the public over here. These analytics can help us to understand the uses and safety of public transportation from a high level. Some of the analytics that will be presented here include:

  • Examining the uses of public transportation in different cities, transportation modes (rail/bus/light rail), and monitoring growth.
  • Tracking the safety of different modes of public transportation by monitoring reported accidents.

FTA gathers annual financial, asset, and operating data from public transportation departments around the country through the National Transit Database (NTD). Agencies that file as Full Reporters must also report monthly operating and safety data in the Annual Report, which includes financial, operating, and asset statistics. In the United States, FTA uses NTD results to apportion funds to urbanized and rural areas. All agencies must adhere to uniform reporting requirements. This includes timely reporting, accurate data collection, and uniform accounting procedures. The NTD Annual Report must include information from the agency’s 12-month fiscal year, which is set to end in 2020. The NTD data validation process ensures that reporting requirements are met and that the reported data is reasonable. For further information please see National Transit Database 2020 Policy Manual.

Results of the Analysis

The first question that I investigated was; which major transit system in the US and which mode of transportation was used the most in 2020? To find an answer, I created a unique column combining the agency name, mode of transportation, and UZA name (for example, metro bus (MB) operated by MTA New York City Transit is represented by “MTA New York City Transit _MB_New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT”). I filtered the dataframe for the year 2020, which had more than 100,000,000 UTPs (number of boardings). Heavy rail (HR) from MTA New York City Transit system serves more than 2.7 billion passengers for the year 2020, followed by a metro bus (MB) of the same system serving more than 690 million passengers. A graph of the results is shown below in Figure 1.

Read the full COE Data Insight here