Which MPOs are most efficient?

I have been working on a project to measure the efficiency of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). MPOs are one of the levels of government often forgotten. When we think of government we usually think of federal, state and local government. MPOs lay between local and state government. My local MPO for example, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) for example covers all of the southern Californian counties except for San Diego. Other MPOs, such as the Delaware Valley Region Planning Commission, cross over several states. Nominally MPOs are concerned with setting transportation policy, but in effect they have broad powers over many areas of regional economic development.

Most MPOs have no elected leadership and instead either appoint their own heads or draw from their constituent members. By no means am I a little ‘d’ democrat; I do not see much value in democracy to decide public policy. It is however concerning that these form of government have little oversight over them of any sort. My hope is that my work will provide much needed information on how well (or badly) these MPOs are doing their jobs.

I am attempt to rank MPOs on two basis: transportation services and air quality. Below is a ranking of the top 77 largest metro regions by their adjusted cost efficiency for providing transit services. I used metropolitan level data from 1991 to 2011 to construct these figures. By adjusted I mean that I attempted to take into account for factors that affect their cost efficiency, namely level of federal funding which is negatively associated with cost efficiency. I hope to be able to better calculate these figures in the future taking into account spatial factors that affect efficiency, but I have to start somewhere right?

1. Raleigh
2. Virginia Beach
3. Honolulu
4. El Paso
5. Orlando
6. Wichita
7. Memphis
8. Baton Rogue
9. Cincinnati
10. Indianapolis


70. Bridgeport
71. Akron
72. Seattle
73. Albuquerque
74. Knoxville
75. Worcester
75. Dallas
76. San Jose
77. McAllen

The full ranking can be found here: Efficiency Residual.


6 thoughts on “Which MPOs are most efficient?

  1. You didn’t give us much to go on. What outcomes are counted as benefits and how are they quantified? What are costs, how quantified.

    From my limited experience it seems that cost/benefit analysis always starts with the outcome desired by politicians and the analyst’s job is to torture the data until it confesses to the required outcome.

    • Yes you will have to forgive me for the post’s lack of substance. I’ll be sure to consider your thoughts in future posts on this topic – thank you for your time.

  2. I think the way you initially look at this project is your bread & butter (because it is so rare a perspective). Not many people look at MPOs or even know what they are, and the fact that you are going to make these levels of governance an object of study says a lot about your ability to look at the world in a unique manner.

    My initial questions are: Why air quality, and what does ‘transportation services’ entail?

    • A quick follow up.

      I ask about ‘transportation services’ because this issue seems ripe to be dominated by libertarian theorists. Rick has some excellent thoughts on this issue here, and it seems to me that transportation systems as they are are largely the (relatively poor) result of central economic planning.

    • By air quality I mean the density of particulate matter (PM) in a region. PM density is a good proxy for over all air quality since it has the strongest relationship with lung disease.

      The hot topic in environmental issues is CO2 emissions and global warming, but I think this is a misdirection. Even if man made global warming is occurring and a net negative (both are arguable), I am skeptical about a feasible solution in the near future. We should instead concentrate on those air quality issues we can deal with in the foreseeable future.

      As for transportation services, I am considering transit services (i.e. bus, rail) and infrastructure (actual roads) primarily.

      I certainly agree that transportation is one of those fields that hasn’t been plucked much. Everyone likes to think about ‘sexy’ things like international relations, but its less sexy roads that are the key. What made the Roman Empire wasn’t the swords of its legions, but its roads.

    • Awesome. Your response about sexiness and roads reminded me of this Tocqueville quote:

      If the Romans had been better acquainted with the laws of hydraulics, they would not have constructed all the aqueducts which surround the ruins of their cities – they would have made a better use of their power and their wealth. If they had invented the steam-engine, perhaps they would not have extended to the extremities of their empire those long artificial roads which are called Roman roads. These things are at once the splendid memorials of their ignorance and of their greatness. A people which should leave no other vestige of its track than a few leaden pipes in the earth and a few iron rods upon its surface, might have been more the master of nature than the Romans.

      A few rods, indeed. If I haven’t said it already, here it is again: Your way of looking at the world is really, really fascinating.

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