Establishing Desired Levels of Service

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Establishing Desired Levels of Service

Before a whole-life strategy can be developed and implemented, an agency must determine what they seek to achieve. In many transportation agencies, the desired level of service (or asset management organizational objectives, in ISO 55000 terminology) provides the linkage between what the goals of an agency are, and what investments and interventions should take priority when managing assets. High level goals should directly influence investment choices when resource allocation decisions are made. Service levels help establish when gaps need closing to achieve a goal, and merits investment. Chapter 2 discusses ways to create linkages between goals and investment decision making.

When managing the life cycle of existing assets, performance targets are commonly established as a way to manage service levels for the transportation network. How to determine the expected level of performance may vary depending on the type of asset being managed. Level of service targets that are part of performance framework typically are a mixture of both customer focused performance measures, and technical service measures that help those responsible for the asset assess what types of interventions might be required and when. Customer focused service measures are important to road users and other stakeholders that require mobility. Travel time reliability, safety, load capacity and clearances, and lane availability are all examples of service targets that are customer focused. Condition, strength, regulatory compliance and examples of technical service attributes are commonly of greater interest to asset stewards than asset users. Both types are service level targets that are important to evaluate the efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency of a transportation system.

“The organizational objectives provide the overarching context and direction to the organization’s activities, including its asset management activities. The organizational objectives are generally produced from the organization’s strategic level planning activities and are documented in an organizational plan.” (ISO 55000, These organizational objectives are analogous to strategic objectives typically found in long range transportation plans.

For pavements and bridges, and other assets managed using a condition-based approach, asset condition is commonly used to establish expected technical levels of performance, but also is relevant to customers. For example, condition is employed as a proxy in this way for pavements because it is objectively measurable, deterioration has some predictability. It is a valuable service attribute because often, user experience is also directly connected to condition as well. Potholes, rutting and roughness all reduce quality of service from a pavement. Performance measures, such as those discussed in Chapter 6, are used to establish the desired long-term performance and to set short-term targets that can be used to track progress towards the long-term objectives. For other highway assets, including those managed using interval- or time-based maintenance approaches, performance may be linked to the expected service life, the ability of the asset to fulfill its intended function, and/or other operational factors. For these other highway assets, performance targets are often established as part of a Maintenance Quality Assurance (MQA) program in terms of desired maintenance levels of service (MLOS) and integrated with operational service targets that may also be customer focused.

Risk can also be used as a measure of performance. As described in chapter 2, risk considers both the potential impact and consequence of failure. This can be particularly useful when the potential consequences of failure impact other assets or facilities. An example of how Colorado uses risk to manage rockfalls is included in section 4.3 of this chapter. Additional details on how to track risk-based performance measures is included in Chapter 6.

Establishing a desired level of performance is typically a collaborative process that considers existing conditions, available funding, expected demands on the system, policy goals and guidance, and stakeholder priorities. The desired level of performance is typically established once baseline data is available, so performance trends can be evaluated. The desired level of performance may be adjusted over time to reflect changes in agency performance, changes in asset condition, capacity, safety, resiliency and other factors.

Three types of service expectations are often used in combination to manage asset performance:

  • Performance target – the level of performance beyond which additional performance gains are not desired or worth the additional cost. When performance is measured based on condition, the desired performance may describe the desired state of good repair. There may be an expected specific time frame to achieve this desired performance target.
  • Current Performance – an intermediate level of performance achieved by the organization and is usually reported relative to the desired target. Target setting is described in more detail in Chapter 5.
  • Minimum acceptable performance – the lowest level of performance allowed for the asset or asset class to still function as designed.

Performance expectations may be set for the road network, a road corridor, for individual assets or for a group of assets. Commonly, performance expectations are set using a combination of asset class or subclass or sub network, such as:

  • Key network corridors.
  • Bridges on the National Highway System.
  • Interstate pavements.
  • Culverts larger than 10 feet in diameter.
  • Traffic signals serving more than 10,000 vehicles per day.

A desired state of good repair is often established as the level of performance beyond which further performance gains are not necessary or desirable, usually represented as a condition state for a set of assets.

The nature of performance expectations can be either strategic or tactical or operational. Strategic expectations support freight movement; for example, the long-term goal of providing unrestricted flow of legal loads is supported by a performance expectation of no load-posted or restricted bridges on interstate highways. This expectation cannot be accomplished without the tactical delivery of work to address factors contributing to the physical condition of bridges. Thus, an agency may include tactical expectations to perform maintenance and repair on structural members on a routine basis or as conditions warrant. These enhancements can be also integrated with renewal and other rehabilitation interventions to help improve both tactical performance metrics, as well as achieve higher level goals and objectives. Operational improvements such as more responsive snow clearance, and better signage are all integrated treatment options to achieve the strategic objective.

Life cycle management analysis, and the decisions it supports, require service levels, performance targets and other objectives to be able to determine the optimal choices for agencies to select during resource allocation. Over an asset life cycle, a range of interventions are possible, from reactive, routine and preventative maintenance, to large investment associated with renewal, replacement, or removal. Having targets helps select the right interventions and investment option while balancing risk, service and cost.

Connecting performance measures to higher level strategic goals also supports an agency’s ability to communicate how technical measures relate to system performance as experienced by highway users and other external stakeholders, thus tying asset management outcomes to system performance. Asset management measures are often very technical. Performance indicators like bridge ratings, pavement distress measurements, and risk ratings are not commonly understood by those outside transportation agencies. However, agencies can use these technical measures to support the performance indicators that are more commonly understood and prioritized by system users and external stakeholders. Communicating system performance and the status of the road network is discussed in Chapter 2, and is illustrated in several examples below. Customer service level targets are often established for this purpose, and give users an ability to understand the quality of service they should expect on the transportation system.