Federal transit funding implications of urbanization: A nationwide assessment
Douglass, Sara Caroline
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Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the US population residing in urban areas increased by over 12% (US Census Bureau 2011). Using variables to predict urbanization (proximity and economic variables, among others) and population projections, we expect the results of the 2020 decennial census to demonstrate the same trend. This thesis research will examine how the growth of Urbanized Areas in the United States will impact funding for rural transit through the FTA § 5311 formula funding program after the 2020 Census. Transit agencies in the US receive federal funding based on their urban classification, as defined by the US decennial census. Larger geographic areas, for these purposes, can either be classified as non-urbanized or urbanized, depending on the population density of the comprised census tracts. Within the urbanized category, there are small urban and large urban areas. Due to the geographic expansion of metropolitan areas, many cities and counties that were classified as non-urbanized in the 2010 Census could become enveloped into “large urban” areas (this occurs through outward growth). Rural transit agencies that shift to large urban would lose their ability to use federal funding for operating expenses (FTA 2015). This is because 50% of federal transit funding for rural systems can be used to cover operating expenses, while no portion of federal funding urban systems can be applied to operations (FTA 2015). The loss of operations funding could be challenging for rural transit systems, especially for those that do not receive any local funding support. A model has already been produced to identify the areas in Georgia that will likely shift from rural to large urban after the 2020 Census (Nord, 2018 & Douthat, Garrow, Nord, 2018). This research will attempt to extend this model to conduct a national-level assessment for the same issue. The applications of this research are to 1) prepare state Departments of Transportation for shifts in federal rural transit funding; and 2) drive policy change to promote regulatory reform that more fully considers the “trending urban” issue when considering federal funding for transit operating expenses.