There are many things to like in the new MAP-21 surface transportation authorization bill. For bus operators and their suppliers, however, there is a lot of unfinished business. As I will explain in a moment, some of it needs to be addressed in upcoming regulations that will implement parts of the new law. Others, though, will have to be fixed in the next bill.
Altoona testing to be changed
MAP-21 included major changes to the bus testing requirements performed at the center in Altoona, Pa. The current tests are an accelerated whole-bus aging test run on the track there, including recording fuel mileage and any minor or major structural and component failures as well as noting the vehicle weight and other physical features. In other words, the test publishes results in a report for every new bus model or major modification. It has not been accurate to say a bus “passed” or “failed” an Altoona test because it wasn’t a pass/fail test.
The new law changes this. It requires a pass/fail method and orders the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop, with industry input, a revised testing protocol. Sources tell us that the FTA is so busy implementing the many other new changes required by MAP-21 that they will likely not get to this one for a while. This does not mean the industry should be complacent, however.
Bus discretionary program eliminated
Perhaps an even more important change is the elimination of the Bus and Bus Facilities Discretionary Program. Initially, most in the industry were OK with this change, as long as the consolidation of this program into the formula programs had enough money to address needs. But the new amounts are significantly short of what is needed and also fail to address the need for rare procurement needs, such as a maintenance or passenger facility or a significant bus order. It remains to be seen just how much damage this change will cause to bus operators and their suppliers, but it will likely be significant.
This is where we all come into the picture. Both the agencies and supply side need to engage FTA officials and members of Congress to address these and other upcoming bus-related issues. The time for a new authorization bill is just around the corner. The American Public Transportation Association’s new authorization task force is taking up this charge, but whether you are a member of it or not, you need to make your voice heard as we craft our positions for the next bill.