The recent stimulus bill contains a new transit grant program that represents both the targeted smart, big-payback small investments that President Obama's administration has advocated since it took office. It is also the kind of investment that the bill's critics were outing as not stimulative in the short term. In a way, both are correct.
Under the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) Program, $100 million was allocated for new grants to reduce the receiving agency's carbon footprint or energy consumption. TIGGER grants allow up to 100 percent federal share, but must be a minimum of $2 million or no more than $25 million per grant. Rules for the new program were proposed in March. As with many of the new law's pots of money, proposals for TIGGER grants had a quick turnaround, due by May 22, 2009.
Grants for two purposes
The stimulus legislation authorizes two purposes for these new grants. The first is for capital investments that will help reduce a transit operation's energy consumption, while the second purpose is for capital investments that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions of a public transportation system. Applications can be submitted to address either or both categories.
The energy reduction category can include various projects ranging from replacement of existing buses with more energy efficient buses, such as hybrids, to conversion to more efficient power consumption on electric rail vehicles. The project's scope must describe how the energy efficiency can be measured, but only that portion of the fleet need be and will be measured.
For example, if the application proposes that wayside energy storage for a rail line in a network be upgraded to capture regenerated energy, then the energy use of that single rail line would be measured, not the whole network. The same goes for the greenhouse gas reduction projects as well. The FTA has provided a spreadsheet that grantees need to complete and attach to the proposal.
Additional economic activity
This and other transit and energy grants are already resulting in additional economic activity in the transit industry, notes Jeff Wharton, executive vice president at IMPulse NC, a Mount Olive, N.C.-based supplier of catenary, substations and other power distribution equipment.
The key is to get the grant money out the door. The FTA's development of new regulations and guidance where needed has been encouraging. The scene now shifts to the transit agencies, and here the pace must pick up if obligation targets are to be met in the stimulus bill. As of this writing, only 4 percent of the $8.4 billion has been obligated but another 13 percent was classified as pending. Much more needs to be awarded, and soon.