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Level of Service Case Studies

Evolving Use of Level of Service Metrics in Transportation Analysis

A number of states, MPOs, and industry groups are working to develop and implement new performance metrics distinct from the traditional automobile level of service (LOS) model. The following cases present the experiences of agencies working to achieve specific goals—related to financial constraints, safety, and the environment—and finding that in order to do so, they must update their use of LOS.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) does not have regulations or policies that require specific minimum LOS values, though existing recommendations may be misinterpreted as federal requirements.

Since the enactment of the surface transportation bill Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act in 2012, national attention on performance management and performance metrics in transportation has increased. Alongside the federal rulemakings to implement MAP-21 performance management requirements, some agencies are reevaluating how they use automobile LOS, the longest-standing performance metric in transportation. LOS can provide a useful metric for understanding system operations and user impacts, and many jurisdictions have imbedded it into their transportation decision-making processes. However, as the transportation industry broadens its goals beyond congestion reduction and associated capacity expansion, some find the traditional role of automobile-only LOS too narrow to address the many factors considered by comprehensive performance management.

The following case studies describe how some state and local agencies are taking advantage of federal flexibility to reconsider their use of LOS as they attempt to resolve broader transportation-related challenges. The cases are based on discussions with staff members of these agencies, as well as review of their published documents.

Evolving Use of Level of Service Metrics in Transportation Analysis