Search the USF Web site Site Map USF home page


Center Identification Number:  77713     


Project Title:  Development of a Large Bus / Small Bus Decision Support Tool   


Principal Investigator:


Stephen L. Reich, Senior Research Associate

Phone: 813-974-6435





Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida

Fax: 813-974-5168


External Project Contact:     


Tara Bartee

Public Transportation Office / Transit Planning





I.  Project Objective/Problem Statement

Managers of transit agencies are constantly attempting to operate more efficiently and are searching for the balance between cost effectiveness and customer service. The growth in the popularity of the “small bus” as a replacement for the traditional 40’ heavy duty vehicle has prompted many customers and policy makers to question transit properties’ vehicle acquisition proposals and decisions. The objective of this project is to develop a decision support tool that can be used to assist transit agencies with vehicle deployment and acquisition choices.

II.  Objectives/Tasks

Transit operators continue to be forced to try to find more efficient and effective means to deliver services. Increases in labor and fuel costs and a resistance to raise revenues through fare increases or tax adjustments have contributed significantly to this demand. The past decade has seen the growth in the use of the “small” bus in urban transportation systems for a variety of reasons. One of them is the perception that the vehicle costs less to acquire, maintain and operate. Agencies have to serve areas that are less dense in terms of employment and households and are delivering service to places that are difficult to accommodate with a traditional 40’ transit bus. The other possible reason for the growth in the interest in these smaller vehicles is to attempt to combat the off-peak “empty bus syndrome.”

The National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board through its Transit Cooperative Research Program has recently completed a report entitled “The Use of Small Buses in Transit Service, A Synthesis of Transit Practice” (TCRP Synthesis 41). Although the report presents a comprehensive overview of the current practice of agencies in North America in deploying buses less than 40’ in length, it does not attempt to identify or quantify the conditions under which an agency should consider replacing larger buses or using smaller buses on new routes.

The purpose of this project is to develop a decision support tool that can be used to assist transit agencies with vehicle deployment and acquisition choices. The decision support tool or tools that are a product of this project will take into account, at a minimum, the following aspects of vehicle selection when contemplating a traditional large bus versus a small bus: Capital cost; Operating cost; Maintenance cost; life cycle costs; Passenger load factors; Fleet composition; Vehicle operating profile; Public perception; Safety; Training; Route profile (limitations, service type, interlining); Peak and off peak characteristics.

This project is being supported by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) in two ways. The first is through a separate project (funded solely by HART and being performed by CUTR) to assess their fleet composition that will yield a set of parameters to be used in the tool to be developed in this project; and secondly through HART’s commitment to this project. The HART project was developed in conjunction with this proposal for funding by the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), and the Transit Authority is making a further financial commitment to this NCTR phase. This project builds on the HART work through use of the knowledge and data acquired in the initial effort to assist in this development of a tool to assist agencies in making the determination of full size or smaller bus appropriateness. The HART work will serve as the foundation for this initiative.

The scope of this project (and the HART project) is limited to buses designated as having a seven to twelve year useful life as determined by the Altoona Bus Testing Center (ABTC) and will not include van conversions and vehicles designed for on-demand or paratransit services.

Task 1: Review and Refinement of Previous (HART) Study Results with Other Florida Agencies

This task is designed to determine which of the factors used in the HART fleet assessment project are appropriate for, and acceptable to, other Florida transit agencies for the development of a decision support tool.

A literature review will have already been performed under the HART project along with a review of the National Transit Database and relevant American Public Transportation Association databases providing the most recent data and trends on the attributes of the “small bus.” Data from the Altoona Bus Testing Center (ABTC) on selected small buses will also be in hand.

CUTR will work with up to four Florida transit agencies (in addition to HART) selected by the project manager to review the factors and service characteristics developed for the HART assessment. Representatives from these agencies along with the FDOT project manager will constitute the Project Advisory Group. This task will include a review of the factors used in the HART project for validation or modification by the other agencies. A summary of the results of the earlier HART project will be shared with these managers for review and comment in individual discussions and through a series of work sessions with the project manager and the participating agencies. This Task will serve to ensure that the factors and inputs that are developed for decision support represent a broader constituency than only one agency.

Task 2: Decision Support Tool Development

Based on the outputs and outcomes of the HART study and Task 1 of this project, CUTR will develop a tool for review by the group established in Task 1 to assist in the decision on vehicle size procurement and deployment. The decision support tool will at a minimum be comprised of a life cycle cost calculator and a matrix with weighted factors that can be used in concert to assist transit agencies in the choice of the appropriate vehicle. A computer model able to yield a definitive small or large bus answer is preferred if feasible.

The tool will be designed to be user friendly and be easily updated as cost and usage data change over time, using a Microsoft Excel platform. CUTR will present a draft of the Decision Support Tool design, application, and outputs to the Project Advisory Group to get feedback and will make changes based on that input.

Task 3: Final Product Delivery and Presentation

After reviewing and incorporating the comments received in Task 2, CUTR will finalize and refine the decision support tool(s). The final product will include any software required to use the tool and a technical memorandum that instructs the user on its operation. In addition, CUTR will prepare a presentation suitable for transit executive management and/ or Boards of Directors describing the tool’s workings and findings given one or two bus deployment scenarios.

III. Deliverables

Progress Reports – Progress Reports will be submitted on a monthly basis to the Research Center for processing. Reports will include the following sections:

1. Work done in period being reported
2. Work to be done in next period
3. Requested modifications to scope, budget, or schedule, as appropriate
4. An updated schedule

Draft Final Report – An electronic copy of the draft final report will be submitted to the project manager no later than sixty (60) days before the end of the contract to allow sufficient time for editing and revisions.

Final Report – Thirteen (13) hard copies of the final report, one (1) electronic version of the final (Word), and one (1) electronic version of the summary (Word) will be provided to the Research Office.

Other deliverables – Additional deliverables for this project will include the following:

• CUTR will provide twenty (20) copies of any software developed and the technical documentation required for using the decision support tool at the conclusion of the project.

IV.  Project Schedule


RESEARCH 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Task 1 2 2         1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Review and Refinement of Previous Studies Results 17% 42% 67% 83% 92% 100%                        
Task 2                       1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Decision Support Tool Development         14% 32%  50%  64%  79% 89%  100%              
Task 3 1 1 1           2         1 1 1 1 1
Final Product Delivery and Presentation                 38% 75% 88% 100%            
Deliverable 1               2 2 2 2     1 1 1 1 1
Progress Report 8% 17% 25% 33% 42% 50% 58% 67% 75% 83% 92% 100%            
Deliverable 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1   2              
Final Draft Report                     100%              
Deliverable 3 1 1 1                 2            
Final Report                       100%            
Deliverable 4 1 1 1                 2            
Copies of Tool                       100%            


V.  Project Budget


Development of a Large Bus/Small Bus Decision Support Tool

Budget Categories


Center Director Salary

$   1,762

Faculty Salaries

$ 54,172

Admin. Staff Salaries

$   1,320

Other Staff Salaries


Student Salaries

$   3,090

Staff Benefits


Total Salaries and Benefits

$ 60,344


$   1,339 

Permanent Equipment


Expendable Property/Supplies

$      472

Domestic Travel

$   3,300

Foreign Travel


Other Direct Costs


Total Direct Costs

$ 65,455

Indirect Costs

$   6,545

Total Costs

$ 72,000


Notes: This budget does not reflect any federal participation. The project team will include faculty, students, and secretarial and other support staff who will work directly on the project and whose costs are reflected in the direct costs of the project as listed above. Budget requests includes salaries for clerical and administrative staff, postage, telephone calls, office supplies, general purpose software, subscriptions, and/or memberships.


VI. Equipment

No equipment is envisioned to be purchased under this project.

VII. Travel

On-site need/requirement identification with transit agency personnel will occur at up to 5 transit agencies within Florida.

VIII. Student Involvement

The proposal anticipates use of a graduate student assistant in the development of the decision support tool described in Task 2.

IX. Relationship to Other Research Projects

This project responds to the need for additional research called for in “The Use of Small Buses in Transit Service, A Synthesis of Transit Practice” (TCRP Synthesis 41) and supports two of the Federal Transit Administration research themes: Equipment and Infrastructure and Fleet Operations. It also builds on a project with a commitment from HART for $36,000 avoiding the need for this work to take place within this project budget.

X. Potential Benefits of the Project

Although previous research has presented the current practice of agencies in North America in deploying buses less than 40’ in length, it has not attempted to identify or quantify the conditions under which an agency should consider replacing larger buses or using smaller buses on new routes. The project results could result in more effective and efficient investment decisions in the area of transit vehicle procurement.

XI. Future Work Related to Research

It is feasible that agencies would want the Center to use the tool developed to assist in future vehicle procurement decisions although the intention is to deliver a product that is easy for transit organizations to utilize.





National Center for Transit Research · at the Center For Urban Transportation Research · University of South Florida · 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 · Tampa, FL 33620-5375 · (813) 974-3120 · (813) 974-5168 · · Comments: