Effective Performance Benchmarking Practices for the Transportation Sector – NCHRP 20-118

Status: Active    
Potential Funding Sources: NCHRP 20-24 / NCHRP Full Program    
Timeframe: Short-Term
Research Period: 24 months
Funding Estimate: $500,000
Potential Sponsors:

This research will outline effective benchmarking practices agencies can quickly adopt and explain how these an be used to share and compare between peer agencies.


As transportation agencies are pressed to publicly release additional performance data, the potential for erroneous comparison and incorrect conclusions will increase. Many “best to worst” lists of transportation agencies do not control for characteristics that may vary greatly between states (e.g., vehicle miles traveled); a state’s individual characteristics can be highly influential in determining how transportation decisions are made and funds are spent. The potential for false comparisons will only grow with the establishment of national performance measures as required in MAP-21. Instead, the expansion of available performance information could be used to promote the exchange of best practices through benchmarking. A key to effective benchmarking is the identification of peer agencies.

Research Objectives

This research will outline effective benchmarking practices agencies can readily adopted by transportation agencies and describe a process by which these benchmarks can be used to share and compare between peer agencies. The research will also include a systematic methodological framework for identifying peer states that have similar attributes.

Proposed Research

• Research and document successful benchmarking practices (e.g., international transit peer-comparison organizations)
• Identify what characteristics should be used to identify peer agencies (e.g., age, asphalt vs. concrete, weather, population density)
• Assess if the feasibility of benchmarking across agencies varies by performance measures
• Outline strategies to respond to misleading and inappropriate comparisons of publicly reported performance data

Potential Benefits

As transportation agencies mature their performance management practices, benchmarking creates a valuable venue through which agencies can share lessons learned, compare results, and identify strategies to overcome challenges.

Implementation and Follow-on Activities

To promote benchmarking activities and test the feasibility of embracing benchmarking practices, a pilot effort with a small number of agencies should be conducted.

Related Research

This research will build upon:
• NCHRP 20-24 (37), the comparative performance measurement effort for state DOTs initiated in 2004
• TCRP Report 141, A Methodology for Performance Measurement and Peer Comparison in the Public Transportation Industry