Target Setting

Component 2


To provide assistance transportation agencies with target setting, this chapter begins by defining target setting within the TPM framework, describing the inter-relationship between target setting and the other nine TPM components, presenting definitions for commonly used target setting terminology, and providing the legislative context for target setting. The bulk of the chapter however, is dedicated to outlining key target setting implementation steps with example applications. The chapter concludes with “keys to success,” a select list of resources and a customizable action plan.

Transportation target-setting is a data-driven, collaborative process that defines what an agency wants to achieve within a specific time frame.

The target setting process takes the goals, objectives, and performance measures of the Strategic Framework (Component 01) and defines success. Targets are used to assess progress toward achieving strategic goals, guide planning efforts, inform programmatic decisions and adjustments, and communicate with stakeholders. Targets make the link between investment decisions and performance expectations transparent across all stakeholders. In short, the process of setting targets completes the foundation (along with the Strategic Framework – Component 01) from which strategic decision-making is launched.

The target setting process is vital to the implementation of Transportation Performance Management (TPM) and offers unique and powerful benefits to an agency by:

  • Creating a crucible for testing what you have in place, particularly data quality and measurement definitions;
  • Driving a conversation about where you are today and how to get to where you want to be in the future;
  • Focusing on the connection between actions and results;
  • Guiding the prioritization and allocation of resources;
  • Enabling assessment of strategy effectiveness;
  • Forming a powerful argument for additional or changes in investments; and
  • Managing expectations by clarifying what outcomes are desired.

Inside an agency, the target setting process is intertwined with the tenets of TPM: connecting employee actions to results, motivating and focusing staff, increasing accountability, guiding the allocation of resources, and tracking the efficacy of various strategies.

Target Setting

  • The use of baseline data, information on possible strategies, funding constraints and forecasting tools to collaboratively set targets.

The definition for target setting is: The use of baseline data, information on possible strategies, funding constraints and forecasting tools to collaboratively set targets.

Target setting is broken down into two complimentary subcomponents:

  • Technical Methodology: Implementation of a data-drive approach for calculating a baseline and performance trend.
  • Business Process: Establishment of an intra-agency process including internal coordination and collaboration to set and modify performance targets.

The technical methodology relates to the compilation and analysis of historical, current and future performance data to guide target setting, while the business process builds internal collaboration, defines roles, and specifies the steps necessary to ensure a strong internal target setting approach is in place. The technical methodology is where “the number” is calculated upon which the target will be set. In order to do this, a baseline must be developed and trend lines examined. Alongside the solid technical approach, agencies must establish and sustain an internal business process to properly establish and refine a performance target. This includes defining the agency’s key players and their roles and responsibilities, planning for coordination across performance areas, and leveraging external collaboration. The technical and business subcomponents must be balanced in order to establish a robust target that will guide future decision-making.

Target setting should not focus on a single target value for a performance measure, but on achieving improved performance over time. The value of performance management is found in better decision-making, not target achievement.

AASHTO SCOPM Task Force Findings on MAP-21 Performance Measure Target-Setting March 2013

Because target setting relies on a carefully investigated baseline and the development of future scenarios, a transparent target setting process creates an open dialogue about specific outcomes the agency wants to achieve and articulates the connection between actions and results. Actions required to achieve established targets are clarified; later, the effects of past actions is revisited. Targets also provide the justification necessary to argue for additional resources and more or better quality data. As a transparent target setting percolates through an organization as a key part of TPM, the relationship between each employee’s day-to-day activities and the desired results becomes more real.

  • Inside an agency, the target setting process is intertwined with the tenets of TPM: connecting employee actions to results, motivating and focusing staff, increasing accountability, guiding the allocation of resources, and tracking the efficacy of various strategies.
Target Setting: Baseline Forecasting: Data, Analysis, Tools; Business Processes, Roles, Purpose, Collaboration

Figure 1. Target Setting Subcomponents

The ten TPM components are interconnected with each other and in many cases dependent on each other.

The linkages between target setting and each of the TPM components is depicted in Table 5.1. On the left, a summary definition is a reminder of what each component entails. On the right, see how the components are interrelated in many ways; this serves to explain their inter-dependencies and complementary functions. The process of setting targets is deeply woven throughout the overall TPM Framework.

Table 5-1 Target Setting Relationship to TPM Components

Component Summary Definition Relationship to Target Setting
Strategic Framework A well-defined and aligned strategic framework for performance management. Targets turn the goals, objectives and measures identified in the strategic framework into statements of success.
Performance Based Planning The use of a strategic framework to drive the development and documentation of agency strategies and priorities in the long-range transportation plan (LRTP) and mid-range plans. Targets define the results the strategies and priorities in these plans are striving to achieve.
Performance Based Programming Allocation of resources to projects to achieve strategic goals, objectives and performance targets. Clear linkages established between investments made and their expected performance outputs and outcomes. Targets guide the prioritization of the projects included in the S/TIP and agency budgets. Targets are needed to track progress towards expected performance outcomes.
Monitoring and Adjustment Processes to monitor and assess actions taken and outcomes achieved. Establishes a feedback loop to adjust programming, planning, and benchmarking/target setting decisions. Provides key insight into the efficacy of investments. Targets provide the “stake in the ground” around which to evaluate the effectiveness of implemented strategies, progress towards goals, identification of unforeseen issues and potential programmatic adjustments.
Reporting and Communication Products, techniques and processes to communicate performance information to different audiences for maximum impact. Targets are integral to an agency’s performance language and are used to illustrate progress made, challenges incurred and next steps related to the strategic goals.
Organization and Culture Institutionalization of a performance management culture within the organization, as evidenced by leadership support, employee buy-in, and embedded organizational structures and processes that support TPM. Targets clearly communicate to all employees what the agency is trying to achieve and where they should focus.
External Collaboration Established processes to engage and collaborate with agency partners and stakeholders on planning/ visioning, target setting, programming, data sharing, and reporting. The target-setting process provide an ideal opportunity to collaborate with outside partners in order to gain their support for agency’s efforts to make progress and find common areas of interest.
Data Usability and Analysis Existence of useful and valuable data sets and analysis capabilities, provided in usable, convenient forms to support TPM. The usability of data to develop baseline trends and prepare forecasts plays a significant role in how the target setting process evolves.
Data Management Established processes to ensure data quality and accessibility, and to maximize efficiency of data acquisition and integration for performance management. The availability of data and the quality of data are the foundation of target setting.

Common terms used in performance management can often be interchanged with each other resulting in some confusion.

To clarify the usage of TPM terminology, Table 5-2 presents the definitions for the target setting terms used in this Guidebook.

Table 5-2 Target Setting: Defining Common TPM Terminology

Common terms What do they really mean? Example
Goal A broad statement of a desired end condition or outcome; a short piece of the agency’s vision. A safe transportation system.
Objective A quantifiable statement that provides additional specificity for a goal. Reduce the number of motor vehicle fatalities.
Measure A quantifiable indicator used to track the objective. Fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
Baseline A trend distilled from historical data and past performance; from which implementation begins, improvement is judged, or comparison is made. The graph depicting annual fatality rate and five-year average fatality rate from 2000 to 2014.
Baseline Measure The current level of performance. 2014 fatality rate = 0.83 per 100 million miles of travel.
Target Level of performance that is desired to be achieved within a specific time frame. 10% reduction in fatality rate by 2020.
Benchmark A comparison of two numbers, often historical data with current numbers or one agency’s results against peer’s. Assessing an agency’s fatality rate by comparing it to that of a peer agency; or to historic fatality rates.

Note: A full list of common TPM terminology and definitions is included in the Appendix X: Glossary

In addition to being a cornerstone component in TPM, MAP-21 includes the following requirements regarding target setting.

State Targets

Within one year of the DOT final rule on performance measures, MAP-21 requires states to set performance targets in support of those measures. States may set different performance targets for urbanized and rural areas. 1   To ensure consistency each State must, to the maximum extent practicable:

  • Coordinate with an MPO when setting performance targets for the area represented by that MPO; and
  • Coordinate with public transportation providers when setting performance targets in an urbanized area not represented by an MPO. 2  

MPO targets

MAP-21 requires that within 180 days of States or providers of public transportation setting performance targets, MPOs must set performance targets in relation to the performance measures (where applicable). To ensure consistency, each MPO must, to the maximum extent practicable, coordinate with the relevant State and public transportation providers when setting performance targets. 3  

Plans requiring targets

MAP-21 requires the following plans to include state targets (and/or MPO targets, as appropriate):

  • Metropolitan transportation plans 4
  • Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) 5
  • Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) 6
  • State asset management plans under the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) 7
  • State performance plans under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program 8
  • Additionally, State and MPO targets should be included in Statewide transportation plans 9

Public Transportation: Asset Management

MAP-21 requires transit agencies receiving Federal financial assistance under Title 49, Chapter 53 to “not later than 3 months after the date on which the Secretary issues a final rule under paragraph (1), and each fiscal year thereafter, each recipient of Federal financial assistance under this chapter shall establish performance targets in relation to the performance measures established by the Secretary.” 10

Public Transportation: Safety

MMAP-21 requires transit agencies receiving Federal financial assistance under Title 49, Chapter 53 to within one year of the final transit safety rule to establish a comprehensive agency safety plan that includes, at a minimum, performance targets based on the safety performance criteria and state of good repair standards established by the Secretary. 11

Implementation Steps

The following section outlines steps agencies can follow to implement a sustainable technical methodology to target setting.

  1. Establish a baseline
  2. Analyze historical trends
  3. Identify influencing factors (internal and external)
  4. Define target parameters
  5. Forecast future performance
  6. Document technical methodology

Establish a Baseline


The most important first step in the target setting process is to assemble data to develop a baseline for the performance measures established under the Strategic Framework (Component 1). The baseline is a trend that illustrates past performance, and serves as a jumping off point from which implementation and progress, begins. Developing a baseline means digging into what data the agency has available and how it is organized. For new measures, agencies may be limited to a baseline value or one data point, but this can be the starting point from which a trend line can be assembled over time. Items to keep in mind as a baseline is developed:

Characteristics of quality data

  • Assemble existing data
  • Determine data source and ownership
  • Assess data quality
  • Identify data gaps
  • Outline ways to close data gaps
  • Use agreed upon data to establish baseline


Below are examples of different levels of data available to support assembling a baseline.

Federal Systems

  • Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS)
  • Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)
  • National Bridge Inventory (NBI)
  • National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS)
  • Census data
  • etc.

Management Systems

  • Infrastructure (bridges, pavements, and other assets)
  • Safety (crashes, injuries, seat belts, non-motorized, etc.)
  • Mobility (traffic, real-time, congestion, transit, etc.)
  • Economic (freight movement, tourism, jobs, etc.)
  • Environment (emissions, storm water, etc.)


  • Access databases
  • Spreadsheets
  • Shapefiles
  • Other

Commercial Sources

  • Travel information
  • Freight information
  • Weather
  • Geospatial data

Linkages to Other TPM Components

Target Setting: Baseline Forecasting: Data, Analysis, Tools; Business Processes, Roles, Purpose, Collaboration

Figure 2. Characteristics of Quality Data

Analyze Historical Trends


The underlining current of this step is “look back to where you have been, for a clue to where you are going.” In other words, understanding past results can provide guidance on setting future targets. The main focus of this implementation step is answering the question: why did we get the performance results we did? Items to keep in mind as trend analysis is being conducted:

  • Confirm measure calculations are consistent over time
  • Identify any repeating patterns (e.g., economic upturn and higher congestion)
  • Investigate atypical variations in trend (e.g., severe winter weather)
  • Locate “shifts” in trend line due to policy changes (e.g., lifting of motorcycle helmet law)


The importance of confirming that performance measure calculations are consistent over time was demonstrated at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA). In December 2013, WMATA reported to their Board of Directors that bus on-time performance had improved to over 80%, a historically un-chronicled level. However, WMATA has to retract this statement when staff discovered that the favorable performance was due to new fleet technology failing to capture all the buses arriving early, thus compromising Bus On-Time Performance results for the latter portion of CY2013.

Linkages to Other TPM Components

Identify influencing factors (internal and external)


In order to understand past and future performance it is essential to identify both internal and external influencing factors. Internal factors include issues within an organization that can potentially be addressed over time, since they are under the control of the agency, and in some cases may even be leveraged to ensure that the target is met. External factors, by contract, are outside agency control, but still effect performance outcomes. The identification of internal and external factors is linked to the “analyze historical trends” step where the following question was asked, “why did performance change?” The answer to this question will undoubtedly uncover several factors that will continue to affect performance results. For example, the economy has a major influence on transportation performance. When the economy is strong, the roads are more congested, the pavements deteriorate due to greater truck traffic on highways, and freight flows increase. When population in a region increases, so do transportation demands. The recent oil boom in several states has resulted in changing traffic quantity and patterns in a manner that has been difficult to predict. On the safety front, could we have imagined how the improvements in vehicle characteristics over the past decade would impact safety-related fatalities and serious injuries?

Both internal and external factors must be acknowledged in order to fully understand the context of the target, to try to anticipate any impacts on performance, and to begin to address these issues as part of the TPM business approach.

In short, understanding factors helps understand limitations. With a better understanding the performance situation, targets can be more accurate and in turn more helpful. Table 5-3 contains a list of internal and external factors to consider in target setting.

Table 5-3 Target Setting: Influencing Factors

Internal External
Funding Economy
Staffing Constraints Weather
Data availability & quality Politics/Legislative requirements
Leadership Population growth
Capital project commitments Demographic shifts
Planned operational activities Vehicle characteristics
Cultural barriers Zones of disadvantages populations
Agency priorities Vehicle characteristics
Agency jurisdiction Modal shares
Senior management directives Gas prices
Policy directives (e.g., zero fatalities) Land use characteristics
Cross performance area tradeoffs Driver behavior
Collaboration across agency Traffic

In addition to building a comprehensive list of all potential factors that might influence the performance results and subsequently the target, agencies should also make an assessment of which factors will likely have the largest effect on performance results and which factors they can have the largest amount of control over. However, the quantification (to the extent possible and practical) of the effect these factors have on results could be postponed until the “forecasting future performance” implementation step. As agencies complete additional cycles of target setting, the ability to identify and understand the effect of various internal and external factors will increase. In essence this step is about agencies managing risk. Items to keep in mind as an agency identified influencing factors include:

  • Identify all potential internal and external influencing factors
  • Categorize the factors by the extent of control an agency has over the results (e.g., “extensive,” “moderate,” or “limited” control)
  • Assess potential factors by the degree of influence on performance results
  • Determine which factors should be included in the current target setting effort
  • Re-visit the list of influencing factors to drop or add factors, change assessment of agency control and/or degree of influence


Degree of Influence over Factors: Virginia Performs
The degree of influence and agency has over factors that affect performance outcomes will vary by factor. “Virginia Performs,” an on-line publically available tracking of the state’s progress toward seven strategic goals, includes an assessment if the state has “significant” or “limited” control of the results. For example, Virginia has determined that it has “limited” control over land use related factors including population density and land development patterns.

Internal Factors: Escalator Availability
A key internal factor to consider when setting targets is planned capital projects. Take for example, escalator availability at a transit agency. From the customer perspective, an escalator out of service is an inconvenience and negatively effects the travel time and the overall transit experience. Customers typically do not distinguish between an escalator being unavailable due to scheduled maintenance or due to an unforeseen issue (e.g., damage to handrail). Therefore, some transit agencies elect to include all escalator downtime in measuring the percentage of time units are available. In this case, when setting an availability target, it is vital to include the hours necessary to conduct required inspections, preventive maintenance and modernization activities that must be conducted during operating hours. Table 5-5 demonstrates that given required maintenance activities, the BEST availability is 95%. Looking at past performance trends, some unscheduled maintenance will likely occur and should be reflected in the final availability target. Granted, efforts can be made to improve the speed and quality of both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance activities, but laying out the effect of planned capital activities in an easy to digest manner can greatly assist the target setting discussion.

Table 5-5 Effect of Scheduled and Unscheduled Maintenance on Escalator Availability

External Factors: Public Policy
In 2012, the Michigan Legislature joined 30 other states by enacting Public Act 98 to repeal the law requiring helmet usage with headlines, “Bill to let motorcyclist decide helmet use.” Michigan’s helmet-use law was originally put into place in 1967 to comply with a since lifted requirement to receive federal funds. One study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute concluded that reduced helmet use accounted for approximately 24 more fatalities and 71 more serious injuries a year in Michigan. The study looked at crash data from 2009 through 2013, and calculated that the risk of fatality is 2.8 times higher for riders not wearing a helmet, while the risk of serious injury is 1.4 times higher, largely echoing studies in other states. The study also demonstrated that the fatality rate rose after the repeal of the helmet law to the highest level in 5 years. The effect of this public policy change should be considered when setting safety related targets. Michigan DOT’s Office of Highway Safety Planning outlined numerous strategies to improve the safety of the driving public including motorcyclist in its annual Highway Safety Plan.

Linkages to Other TPM Components

Define target parameters


Targets can take on many different formats (e.g., percentage, directional, average value), different time horizon (e.g., daily to 25 year targets), different scope (e.g., regional, statewide, urban/rural). A key step in the technical methodology to target setting is determining these target parameters. For example, in many cases, it may take a number of years for a significant investment to produce noticeable improvements in performance; annual targets may create a sense that progress is not occurring, when it is occurring on a different time frame. In addition, the target parameters should reflect the purpose of the target (see Business Process Subcomponent 2.2). For example, agencies may elect to establish a set of targets with different time horizons to fill different needs (e.g., long range to clarify desired policy objectives, mid-range to support management documents like TAMPs and short range to guide annual budgetary decisions,). Items to keep in mind as target parameters are being evaluated:

  • What will resonate with the target audience?
  • What parameters will reflect the behavior of the performance measure?
  • Consider the cost of data collection and presentation (e.g., more frequent may equate to more costly)
  • Reflect existing reporting requirements (e.g., NHS bridges)


Target Format: How the change in performance is portrayed. Below is a list of the ways to communicate a target:

  • Number: The target is aiming for a specific number
    Example: Achieve 300 or fewer accidents on state roadways this year.
  • Directional: The target is aiming for an increase or a decrease within a measure.
    Example: Reduce the number of accidents on state roadways annually.
  • % or Rate: The target aims for a certain percent decrease or to impact a certain number of users.
    Example: Achieve a 20% decrease in number of accidents over the next 5 years.
    Or: Achieve a rate of 1 in 5 roadway users employing electronic tolling.
  • Absolute: Typically aspirational, the target can be “none” or “all”
    Example: Implement safety measures on all roadways.
  • Tiered Targets: Targets incorporating by their definition a range of outcomes, allowing flexibility in accommodating various expected influencing factors
Geography / scope:
Boundaries and filters applied to the performance area to set the extent of the target. Consider whether the scope is urban, rural, regional, corridor, one or several modes, NHS/non-NHS, etc. Keep in mind that this part of the scope is directly tied to the external factors discussed above, and that a wider geographic scope likely means more external factors to consider. The scope must take the literal realm of responsibility into account and resist overextending. Some considerations include:
  • Area of influence: Can the decisions you make impact the scope you set?
  • Federal and State requirements may determine scope
  • What is the interest of external stakeholders?
  • Does the definition of scope encourage friendly competition (e.g., across districts) or lead to incorrect conclusions?
  • Can related scopes that you set be aggregated? (e.g., interstate, non-interstate NHS, NHS, and non-NHS—this example is not a good roll up because the first two items are a subset of the NHS.)
Prior to a 2014 peer exchange, State DOTs were asked if they planned to set different performance targets for rural and urbanized areas – or for two different scopes. The majority of the respondents indicated that they “were not sure.” For the agencies that indicated they would set different targets, the reasons given included different acceptable thresholds for urban versus rural delay and different infrastructure condition needs by roadway type.

Time horizon:
Duration of time that will be the basis for reaching the target. This parameter should be carefully considered and chosen as is appropriate to the type of target and the feasibility of attaining a specific outcome. Note: the frequency of reporting performance results is different than the target time horizon. For example, an agency may have an annual target for bus on-time performance but the performance data are assessed on a daily basis.

Table 5-6 Target Setting: Horizon Options

Type Short-Range Mid-Range Long-Range

Linkages to Other TPM Components

  • Under MAP-21 agencies will be allowed to set their individual targets and determine whether to set separate targets for urban vs. rural areas under an agency’s jurisdiction.

Forecast future performance



Linkages to Other TPM Components

Document technical methodology



Linkages to Other TPM Components
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Target Setting Action Plan

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