Best Practices: Transit Propensity and Community Needs: Providing Insight to Create Equitable Transit Systems

Dec. 27, 2022
A seamless regional mobility plan for the Charlotte, N.C., region shows the power of transit propensity analytics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - To create equitable transit systems, understanding the location of key populations and the mobility needs of those populations is critical. Agencies with access to comprehensive data, be it internal or from the U.S. census, can plan for a seamless and equitable transit system that works best for as many as possible.

One example of maximizing such data is the recently completed CONNECT Beyond Regional Mobility Plan, led by the Centralina Regional Council, for the greater Charlotte, N.C., region. The plan relies on transit propensity maps — using publicly available data to determine where transit is most needed in the region. These interactive maps highlight various population concentrations, such as the proportion of elderly and disabled residents, low-income and access to essential services. Insight gained from these maps helped identify key groups for deeper conversation regarding mobility needs.

Correctly used, transit propensity maps are a powerful tool to help owners/agencies inform the heart of equitable transit planning: Successful community outreach. Only by engaging and listening to various populations can agencies learn of their unique needs. Whatever the community’s needs are, a transit propensity map can help identify the location of who most needs service and inform community outreach and fieldwork strategies.

Best Practices for Creating a Transit Propensity Map

The key to transit propensity maps is to understand the nuances of the data, drawn from real people’s experiences. It’s imperative the team goes the extra mile and holds listening sessions with underrepresented segments of the community to listen to collective needs — a truly equitable plan must incorporate the voices of those who will be using the transit system. This community outreach should occur before the plan is drafted, and then again to check the solutions presented in the plan address the community’s needs.

Key activities in completing CONNECT Beyond were developing transit propensity maps, conducting field visits and ride arounds to augment data findings, gathering survey-based insight and holding listening sessions to understand transit needs. This process was key to creating a holistic plan that incorporated feedback from travelers with varying mobility needs.

Boosting Propensity Maps for Planning

A transit propensity map paired with additional data can become increasingly helpful to transit planners and (public sector) decision makers.

Propensity maps can complement public surveys, listening sessions, origin-of-destination surveys or travel demand model data by showing where people are likely to need transit and where they are going. Community input can add nuance that data doesn’t show. Using these insights and tools creates a powerful, comprehensive look at a region’s state of transit.

For CONNECT Beyond, the team used the propensity maps to help determine short-, medium- and long-term goals that would improve the overall transit system.

Creating a Living Resource Improves Ongoing Outreach & Funding Readiness

Transit propensity maps can serve communities as a living resource if featured and actively maintained on an agency’s communication platforms. The transit propensity maps created for CONNECT Beyond are intended to be updated periodically. This empowers local agencies and municipalities to see their communities’ current transit needs and demographic details, a key benefit as they continue to compete for grant funding. This also gives the planning agencies the ability to assess the progress of plan outcomes and recommendations.

As transit agencies grapple with how to meaningfully enhance their equity in planning, transit propensity maps can complement the planning toolbox in understanding concentrations of potential transit users and their mobility needs, as well as insight to refine outreach and fieldwork effort. Using this tool to better inform a community outreach strategy leads to systems that better serve all riders, both now and in the future.


Jorge Luna is HDR’s South Atlantic Area transit lead and served as the consultant team project manager for the CONNECT Beyond Regional Mobility Plan.

About the Author

Jorge Luna | South Atlantic Transit Lead, HDR

Jorge Luna serves as HDR's South Atlantic area transit section lead. He brings his public and private sector expertise and the right resources to clients for the benefit of their communities' transit users and stakeholders. He supports his transit practice and team in a hands-on way, through project management, fieldwork, planning, analysis and more.

Beyond clients, Luna is an active participant in local state transit associations, transit advocacy groups and the community at large to help educate on and transform through transit and multimodal tools. Luna is a member of the North Carolina Public Transportation Association and Georgia Transit Association. He also serves as vice president of the Transportation Association of South Carolina.

Notable projects that Jorge has worked on include CONNECT Beyond in Charlotte, N.C., as well as the Regional Transit Framework and Lowcountry Rapid Transit projects in Charleston, S.C. He is the recipient of an HDR Pathfinder Award for Project Collaboration, an award given to those nominated and recognized by their HDR peers for outstanding work and a TASC award for outstanding and dedicated service to the transit community in South Carolina.