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ACTS December 12, 2012 - Minutes

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics
Thursday, December 12th 2012, West Building 
Headquarters, U.S. Department of Transportation


Key issues discussed by attendees included:

  1. Movement of RITA/BTS under OST
  2. Challenges affecting BTS
  3. MAP-21 and FY 2013 budget
  4. Implementation of performance measures
  5. Supply chains and freight data
  6. Airline data and statistics
  7. Measuring passenger and freight connectivity


Clarke, John-Paul (Chair, Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics)
Christina Casgar (Goods Movement Policy Manager, San Diego Association of Governments)
Joseph Schofer (Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University)
Alicia Carriquiry (Professor of Statistics and Director of Graduate Education at Iowa State)
Michael Replogle (Transportation Director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy)
Paul Jovanis (Professor of civil engineering, Pennsylvania State University)
David Lee (Managing director - economics, Airlines for America)


Note: Presentation slides are available on the ACTS website.

Comments by RITA Deputy Administrator

Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Deputy Administrator, Gregory Winfree, led the welcome and introduction of the new members of the Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics recently appointed by the Department of Transportation’s Secretary, Ray LaHood.  He also thanked the out-going Chairman, John-Paul Clarke, and out-going member Christina Casgar for their contributions to the Council and their tenure.  Deputy Administrator Winfree continued to discuss how RITA will soon be elevated to the Office of the Secretary (OST) which will in turn enhance the role of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).  Deputy Administrator Winfree also went on to discuss the safety data requirements of MAP-21 and how BTS is addressing this mandate.

Welcome, Introductory Remarks and Introduction of New Members

ACTS Chair John-Paul Clarke called the meeting to order and began discussing challenges affecting BTS.  This included figuring out how to leverage knowledge from the private sector to improve the completeness of data, how to reduce the costs of acquiring data, standardizing statistics across modes, and environment/energy metrics.  Chair Clarke gave an overview of the agenda a brief summary of each topic.  A discussion on publicizing the agenda was addressed by Michael Replogle and it was recommended that the agenda, as well as the presentations should be posted on the BTS website and distributed to the members, as well as the public.  Chair Clarke asked the ACTS Council to submit to him a distribution list in order to actively publicize the next ACTS meeting.

Further discussion on the challenges previously discussed were mentioned by Alicia Carriquiry who noted that the challenge of obtaining data from the private sector was an issue across all official statistical modes, however it was encouraged to collaborate with other agencies.  Joseph Schofer suggested getting others to develop programs to further enhance data collection and collaboration.

Review of BTS in MAP-21 Provisions and FY 2013 Budget

BTS Director, Patricia Hu, gave a quick overview of the presentation and introduced the new BTS staff to the ACTS members, including the BTS Deputy Director, Rolf Schmitt, along with the Director of the Office of Transportation Analysis, Michael Sprung, and the Director of the Office of Airline Information, Bill Chadwick.  Director Hu began the presentation by discussing the evolution of BTS, starting with its creation in 1991 by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), and went on to outline the major BTS mandates in MAP-21 and AIR-21.  She began with the Intermodal Transportation Database (ITD) and how it meets the requirement to produce information on the volumes and patterns of movement of goods and people, as well as the location and connectivity of transportation facilities and national accounting of expenditures and capital stocks on each mode.

Christina Casgar inquired about Capital Stock.  The Director of the Office of Advanced Studies (OAS), David Chien, responded by explaining Capital Stock/Assets on the infrastructure is captured by state.  BTS Deputy Director Schmitt added that Federal Highways has a monitoring system and BTS uses these numbers & value estimates that are highly aggregate. Capital Stocks can change drastically based on things like land values & other variables.

Hermann Habermann asked what is expected of the Council.  Chair Clarke explains that Director Hu wants everyone to understand the mandates and if the changes in the mandate help reach the goal effectively within the financial restraints.  The Council essentially reviews the various programs and see if the Budget matches the programs to the end that the mandate is met, and provides advice, or a more effective way of doing things to reach/complete the required mandate.

Director Hu went on to explain the ITD products used to meet the MAP-21.  She also elaborated on The National Transportation Atlas Database (NTAD) and how it is used for the MAP-21 mandate to have geospatial databases that depict transportation networks, the flow of people, goods, vehicles, and craft over the networks, and the social, economic, and environmental conditions that affect or are affected by the network.  Director Hu briefly discussed the mandate for transportation performance and impacts and the mandate for Airline Information to collect info related to passenger and air cargo.  She explained the Safety Data Program and how BTS needs to identify and address data gaps to meet the MAP-21 mandates and the products that were created to meet that goal. The National Transportation Library (NTL) has new requirements which makes NTL the depository and clearinghouse for departmental research and make data more transferable.  Statistical Coordination was then mentioned and the mandate to establish guidelines and coordination with other federal agencies.

Director Hu then began her presentation on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, explaining that MAP-21 authorized $26 million in contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund, which is allocated between the BTS core programs, excluding the Office of Airline Information (OAI), and the RITA support functions.  AIR-21 authorized $4 million from the Airway Trust Fund for OAI.  The Council asked Kathy Montgomery how much of the $26 million goes to BTS and how much actually goes to RITA.  Kathy Montgomery replied, explaining that of the $26 million, $7 million goes to BTS for its 70 salaried employees and other administrative costs.  Herman Habermann asked who makes the decisions on how the money is allotted.  Kathy Montgomery replied that the RITA Administrator makes those decisions.

Director Hu concluded her presentation with efforts on how BTS is trying to reduce the budget.  Chair Clarke assigned the Council to view slide 24 and decide whether it’s the right thing to do.

Performance Measures: Implementation Plan

BTS Deputy Director Rolf Schmitt began his presentation on one of the MAP-21 mandates mentioned in the previous presentation, performance measures.  These measures included safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, livable communities, and environmental sustainability.  BTS is responding by compiling basic indicators, providing technical assistance in definition of measures and supporting collection, publishing performance measures, and exploring improvements in methods and applications.

Hermann Habermann asks if Map 21 is a Legislative call into the performance process.  Rolf Schmitt answered that MAP-21 efforts are not a centralized effort.  It is very decentralized by mode. Habermann goes on to ask if BTS was given a list with the expectation to come back with completed performance measures, to which Deputy Director Schmitt replied that these collection measures are not just for BTS only, but it houses the requirement for many offices.  BTS measures & compiles basic indicators in the annual report and provide technical expertise. Michael Replogle Interjects, asking if BTS is expected to set guidelines on Performance Measurements and strategies on how to compile the statistical information.  If so, who at DOT is the POC for coming up with standards for these statistics? Deputy Director Schmitt answered that BTS as an agency & the Undersecretary for Policy would be responsible.  Chair Clarke adds that benchmarking these efforts in other modes can help intermodal efforts and should be a multi-modal effort.  OAS Director David Chien also adds that the role BTS plays is working & BTS is collaborating with other modes by helping PHMSA, FHWA with calculating fuel economy and mileage co-efficients, and de-seasonalizing modal data to see how others process their data, and to advise on how to increase accuracy.  Hermann Habermann asks if this is a White House mandate or a DOT mandate, and it was answered that it is a DOT mandate.

BTS Deputy Director Schmitt asked Joseph Schofer how BTS should measure its own performance.  Schofer responds by asking how BTS is currently meeting mandates and where the gaps are.  Deputy Director Schmitt replies that BTS is doing well at meeting some, but not so well at meeting others and that some data is outdated. Replogle suggested meeting long-term strategic goals and mapping all of the mandates to the products, not omitting the quality of the products. Schofer adds that resources are VERY tight and to identify what is fundamental. Habermann adds that if you all identify which mandate you’re not going to put a lot into (because you don’t see much value added), then the council can better work with you and offer advice.

Chair Clarke assigns the Council to identify the gaps with analysis and to brainstorm on how to use new data or new data sources for the next ACTS Meeting.

Supply Chains and Freight Data

Council Member Christina Casgar began her presentation on supply chains and freight data in order to give an additional perspective on freight and to add another dimension of working on freight data.  Casgar introduced a sample program, paired with public and private sector, available tools and observations.  She discussed rail projects, border infrastructure projects, private sector supply chain logistics, and goods movement strategy, as well as how to apply private sector information.  Chair Clarke mentioned how to leverage the data more effectively.  Ron Duych mentioned an FCRP discussing methodological standards so data can be used across jurisdictions.  Chair Clarke – resources are getting tighter, how to we work together to become more standardized to make collection easier.  Casgar moved on to talk about what freight data is used to conduct studies, such as TRANSEARCH, FAF, BTS Website, but public sector supply chain data is not available.  She provided a sample supply chain metric that may be useful for BTS and the public sector.  Casgar also provided observations that the public sector could benefit from private supply chain concepts and suggested that BTS possibly post web information regarding supply chain trends, post supply chain editorial content each quarter, or post supply chain application examples from public and private perspectives.

Chair Clarke commented that this tied in well to see how things are changing, and supply chain is a major economic efficiency in transportation. 

Airline Statistics: Challenges & Opportunities

Office of Airline Information (OAI) Director, Bill Chadwick began his presentation on Airline Statistics.  Introduced Jeff Gorham, a member of OAI to assist with the presentation.  Chadwick gave a brief overview on the mission of OAI and what data is collected and why.  More than 130 airlines/air carriers provide data to OAI for data use, focusing on consumer related issues, freight, financials, employment, and fuel costs/consumption.  All data is scheduled according to Federal Regulations.  AIR-21 governs OAI’s activities which includes air safety and consumer protection, requiring public disclosure of delays and cancellations. 

Hermann Habermann asked, to what extent does BTS have the right to go to another agency to get data.  Deputy Director Schmitt  answered that there is a general BTS provision clarified in MAP-21 gives right to request data from other agencies.  Confidentiality and sharing laws take precedence.  Jeff Gorham added that there must be a memorandum of understanding between agencies.

Chadwick went on to explain the uses of OAI data.  It is used in a wide variety of applications and the users, being the stakeholders.  All of OAI’s data falls into four categories – Financials, Traffic, Origin & Destination Survey, and Performance.  Jeff Gorham went on to discuss the Airline Information collection schedule, discussing monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual reports, beginning with examples on how data is used.  Users can compute highest and lowest domestic fares based on city origins per quarter with the Average Domestic Airline Fare report, based on a 10% sample.  Chair Clarke asked how fares look for different cities when controlling distance between cities.  James Bouse (OAI) chimed in on how the user can go in and get this information.  Chair Clarke added that these are averages, and would need to go into more detail to get more specific data.  Gorham next showed the Baggage Fee report, the On-Time Performance report, Air Passenger Travel report and reports from the Traffic Database.  These reports are to give the Council a better understanding of what OAI produces. 

Chair Clarke asked how does OAI measure the quality of the data internally, what processes are in place and what safeguards and statistical analysis are associated with the data.  Gorham answered that there are a myriad of edit checks once data comes in, then the data runs through quality analysis to ensure data is accurate.  Some checks have built up over time.  Chair Clarke asked if there is a mechanism as feedback to carrier.  Gorham answered that once data is incorrect, they contact the carriers to address errors.  Chair Clarke asked if the data errors are published, or if data guidelines are published.  Gorham answered that there are no published guidelines, airline reporting should know the guidelines, but over past 4-5 years, provided step by step instructions on how carriers are to report in order to better the data quality. Habermann asked if data quality increased in the On-Time Performance report due to published guidelines.  Gorham answered that this is indicative of the regulations that were put into place, allowing for better quality data, however that is not noted on the reports.

Measuring Passenger Transportation Connectivity

Theresa Firestine from the Office of Advanced Studies (OAS) presented information on the Intermodal Passenger Connectivity Database (IPCD).  She explained that IPCD data was collected one mode at a time and made available on the BTS website beginning in 2007.  The IPCD is the only system-wide database of passenger terminals.  Firestine defined that an intermodal connection exists when two modes serve the same terminal building, serve facilities in the same block or within one block that do not require crossing a thoroughfare, serve buildings that are connected by an enclosed structure, or carriers involved advertise the connection. Chair Clarke asked if the IPCD would capture traveling to an airport and using tri- rail connection to another airport.  Firestine answered that it would capture the airport in the database, which shows a connection to the rail.  Clarke asked if it would show how many passengers were involved, to which Firestine answered no, the number of passengers is not captured in this.  Firestine went on to discuss the type and amount of records included in the database and the information within the database, to include facility names and cross-reference data and types of connections. Joseph Schofer asked if the IPCD would include the Metro Center in DC.  Firestine answered that it would include metro center because of the rail station, as well as Union Station.  The record would indicate if transit buses are available to connect to the rail as well.  Firestine also noted highlights of the IPCD, intermodal connectivity by mode.  Joseph Schofer stated that a ferry terminal would then not be intermodal if they only dropped passengers off of the boat and the only way to leave would be a private vehicle.  Firestine confirmed and informed that the public can access this data through the TransStats website utilizing the query tool allowing users to find specific information and to download data from the database.  Firestine discussed the report on Rural Transportation Accessibility.  Chair Clarke asked how results compare to Google Maps and Mapquest.  He noticed that most metro transit authorities has transit times.  They have most intermodal information for trip planning.  Chair Clarke also inquired whether BTS had given thought on how to leverage that information to link.  Firestine replied there is no capability to do trip planning and no foresight to do that with IPCD.  In rural transportation, it used to look at gaps in accessing public transportation.  Chair Clarke suggested having a conversation with Google and Mapquest regarding the data BTS currently has and maybe using connectivity maps for their use.  Director Hu added that this is not for trip planning, but for using information when modes are switched and to lay a foundation so when they are ready to float traffic onto the network, this data is available.  Chair Clarke added that this information can also be used for trip planning, which Director Hu agreed.   David Chien added that it’s been looked at for livability purposes to give an idea of how accessible some regions are for transportation.  Chair Clarke added that in certain cities, it could be more efficient to use public transportation to get to airport.  If you could provide information to trip planning companies, it may encourage this behavior.  Firestine shared a map on the coverage of intermodal connections and the closures due to Hurricane Katrina.  Joseph Schofer asked what the granularity was.  Firestine responded that the map was done at the block group level.  She discussed future activities showing that there will be a release of a full analytical report on passenger system connectivity, bi-annual updates.  Schofer asked where the data came from.  Firestine answered that it was collected in-house by federal staff, some already in the database (airport information from the Federal Aviation Administration).  Inter-city bus was through actual schedules and time tables.  Schofer asked what the intention for the update was, to which Firestine replied bi-annually.  Schofer went on to ask if people were using now.  Firestine said AMTRAK and Congress have given feedback and David Chien added that the Wall Street Journal and Bloomburg news also used this information.  Director Hu added that this is the first layer, once the Census layer is added, they can then start to identify the population by demographic and the relation to connectivity.  Chair Clarke asked who the intended customer was, Director Hu replied that this data can be used by any planners or who might address mobility needs.  This is mostly a supply side model, not usage.  Alicia Carriquiry added that some areas using connectivity may have a difference in population.  Director Hu answered that it will identify whether there is a need for a program to answer those questions.  Clarke added that there is a strategy, and explaining the strategy to the Council and will help the Council advise how to best move forward and how it could be used outside of the agency. 

Measuring Freight Connectivity

The Director of the Office of Transportation Analysis (OTA) Michael Sprung began his presentation on Measuring Freight Transportation Connectivity by asking the Council if the same product was available for freight as there is for passenger, would they want it.  Chair Clarke commented that Google Maps has semi-automated methods by identifying transition points, and asked if there have been talks with them on obtaining this information.  Paul Jovanis commented that Google Maps doesn’t explain how freight moves from one place to another, but it might be useful for passenger side.  Sprung discussed the MAP-21 requirements of having an intermodal transportation database and that it is to include the movement of goods and people.  Sprung asked how BTS should approach this from a freight perspective and asked the Council to advise on how best to proceed.  He went on to explain the potential data sources and noted that numerous sources already exist, such as the master dock file from the Army Corps of Engineers, the listing of intermodal connectors on the national highway system from the Federal Highway Administration, and the Geomiler software used on the BTS Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) where freight can change modes.  A tabular list was put together in 2003 identifying where freight changed between modes and where it is connected.  Sprung asked what type of facilities should be included, determining how much detail is needed.  Chair Clarke asked how the data will be collected about value.  Sprung answered that from some of the independent sources, they know how much goods move through docks by commodity and vessel type.  They don’t know how much went to other sources after leaving the dock and through the facilities.  Same with airline information.  Joseph Shofer suggested that BTS try to make a parallel between freight and passenger databases and asked how different the data sets would be.  Sprung asked if the goal should be to assign freight across all modes.  Schofer commented that there is a background modeling task that needs to be done, but is a large project – a project that relates to supply chain that Christina Casgar previously mentioned.  Chair Clarke added that the passenger side could get to this level as well.  Deputy Director Schmitt commented that the mandate doesn’t say we have to do the analysis, but to provide the network that is used for the analysis.  BTS can use the current network and create a table that lists all of the connections that could be used.  On the passenger side, they created a table which now needs to be attached to a network to make it more effective.  FHWA has developed a model that has the passenger equivalent of freight analysis.  Chair Clarke asked if the passenger and freight databases over time should have the same level of information and accuracy and what the plan is to make that happen since they are at different levels now.  Deputy Director Schmitt said for facilities, it is easier.  On the demand side, BTS should discuss these strategies.  Christina Casgar said there is another dimension of citizen issues with passenger data.  Freight has a the private sector as a customer and uses that business model, and that it is important to think the way the industry is thinking. 

Meeting Adjourned (4pm)