Rerouting: Solving the Financial Dilemma of Public Transportation
City: Tallahassee, Florida
Reporting to: Assistant City Manager
Nationwide, cities are faced with rising costs for bus services and declining ridership. Citing inconvenience, longer commute times, and comfort, many residents are opting for other forms of transportation, including driving, rideshare services, and electric scooters. Tallahassee is not immune to these trends, and in recent years, the rising cost of providing public transportation coupled with stagnant revenue have created an increasing burden on the City’s limited General Fund. Despite these challenges, public transportation remains an essential service for thousands of local commuters, providing over 2.4 million rides each year. As city leaders evaluate how to meet the transportation needs of all residents in a financially sustainable way, typical budget balancing measures, such as fare increases, could have a disproportionately negative impact on vulnerable populations. Ensuring public transportation is accessible, efficient, and equitable is a key objective of the City’s Five Year Strategic Plan (2020-2024). This plan guides the direction of the city by informing budget and policy priorities and was adopted unanimously by the Mayor and City Commission.
While electric buses are cheaper to run than diesel vehicles, and electrification of the fleet is also a key deliverable outlined in the city’s recently adopted Clean Energy Plan, electrification alone will not eliminate the need for General Fund transfers to operate transit service. To this end, the city is looking to incorporate additional models in its efforts to provide cost-efficient public transportation. Currently, the city is allocating $35 million in competitive transportation grants towards the construction of a new transit hub on the underinvested south side, further electrification of the city’s bus fleet, and route optimization studies to increase operational efficiency. City staff are also in the early stages of drafting the 2025-2035 Transportation Development Plan to evaluate how to best meet the future needs of the community. Furthermore, as the primary public transportation provider for Leon County, Florida, Tallahassee has already implemented initiatives to advance equitable transportation strategies. This includes partnering with three higher education institutions to offer subsidized rides, offering free rides for K-12 students, and serving a major university with a fully electric bus service. The fellow, working together with the Assistant City Manager, will connect stakeholder input, service evaluation, financial analysis, and program strategy to answer the following key questions:
How can the city leverage the private sector to offer equitable transportation to those with the greatest needs?
How might the city balance incentivizing consumer behavior towards more environmentally sustainable transportation with responding to existing demand?
How can the city apply alternative models of public transportation to meet priorities outlined in the Strategic Plan?
How can the city enhance operations to better reflect industry best practices and emerging technologies?
What You’ll Do
To address these questions, the fellow will engage with key internal and external stakeholders to inform important guiding documents, including the city’s 2025-2029 Strategic Plan and the 2025-2035 Transportation Development Plan. These stakeholders include the City’s Transit Agency (StarMetro), the Strategic Innovation department, the city’s executive team, and the Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency. Through their engagement and research, the fellow will provide key inputs into evaluating a core service for Tallahassee residents.
Key Deliverables Include:
- A white paper outlining the state of the city’s public transportation, including:
- A financial analysis.
- Benchmarking alternative transportation models used by comparable cities.
- Potential opportunities for public-private partnerships.
- Equity impacts of maintaining current practices and adopting new ones.
- Draft performance metrics for inclusion in the City’s Five-Year Strategic Plan
- Draft language to include in the City’s 2025-2035 Transportation Development Plan.
- Presentation of recommendations for equitable and financially sustainable public transportation to key stakeholders, the Mayor, Assistant City Manager, and City Commission.
What You’ll Bring
The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:
- Data Analysis
- Financial Modeling
- Policy Analysis
- Writing and editing
- Stakeholder engagement (*discretion with sensitive information)