Research & Innovation
FTA envisions the US having a world-class public transportation system with access and mobility for all. FTA’s research strives to advance public transportation innovation by leading research, development, demonstration, deployment, evaluation, and implementation practices and technologies that enhance effectiveness, increase efficiency, expand quality, promote safety, and ultimately improve the transit rider’s experience.
Through testing and deployment, FTA's Research, Demonstration and Innovation program helps the transit industry adopt tried-and-proven technologies. Demonstrations of new technologies can reduce risk and help create both supply and demand. Learn more about FTA’s research program in our latest video, Harnessing Innovation for Public Transportation.
- In May, FTA posted research reports on the demonstration of a fuel cell electric bus in Birmingham, AL, the status of seven 2016 Safety, Research and Demonstration (SRD) projects, and a Mobility on Demand (MOD) research and demonstration project in Palo, Alto, CA.
- On May 26, 2020, FTA announced a $1.25 million funding opportunity to demonstrate and evaluate innovative technologies and designs to improve the state of good repair for transit agencies.
- FTA's Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) initiative highlights FTA’s commitment to support and advance innovation in the transit industry and promotes forward-thinking approaches to improve financing, system design, and service.
FTA leads research in safety, asset management/innovation, and mobility. FTA research projects:
- assess new operational processes
- improve traveler experiences
- test systems that monitor rider and passenger safety
- fund demonstration grants for low or no emissions buses that reduce emissions and energy use
- expand public/private partnerships to enhance mobility
- encourage innovation through the use of technology
FTA research involves broad and collaborative engagement across many organizations to involve riders, transportation providers, public and private industry associations, universities, centers of excellence, nonprofit organizations, private organizations, and federal partners.
As part of its research program, FTA expands the knowledge base of the public transportation industry’s approach to improve safety. (Also see FTA’s Safety & Oversight program)
This program builds a portfolio of demonstration projects that provides technical and financial support for transit agencies to pursue innovative approaches to eliminate or mitigate known safety hazards. It builds upon demonstration projects started under Innovative Safety, Resiliency, and All-Hazards Emergency Response and Recovery and Safety Research Demonstration Programs.
FTA Standards Development Program
FTA works with public transportation industry organizations to develop, modify and enhance voluntary safety standards as well as expand and reestablish partnerships with Standard Development Organizations (SDOs). The safety standards work is a product of the FTA Safety Standards Strategic Plan project.
FTA’s mobility research is improving public transportation services through adaption to new mobility options that increase geographic coverage and service times, address "last mile" issues for travelers, and ensure accessibility. FTA’s Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox initiative is expanding public-private partnerships and enhancing traveler experience through technology-enabled seamless, effective integration across transportation modes. In October 2016, FTA announced $8 million in Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox awards, part of a larger research effort at U.S. DOT that supports transit agencies and communities as they integrate new mobility tools like smartphone apps, bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive bus and van services.
FTA’s research efforts support FTA and DOT initiatives such as Transit automation research, Rides to Wellness, Accessibility Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI), and the Bicycle and Pedestrian initiative. These programs aim to:
- Improve multi-modal connectivity
- Address accessibility issues through application of innovative technologies and practices
- Improve the quality of the traveler experience and the transit product
- Identify new mobility-enhancing practices and technologies
FTA has a successful history of supporting transformative transportation infrastructure research and demonstration projects. Our focus is to ensure that innovations meet the public demand for safe and timely adoption as well as create economic benefits. Through infrastructure research activities, FTA assesses the development and deployment of zero-emission transit buses, facilities, and related charging technologies as well as effective approaches to managing all capital assets.
Asset Management and Asset Innovation
This program uses advanced technologies, innovative construction techniques, and new materials – such as nano-particles, recycled polymers, and composite — to monitor the health of transit assets. Major advances in sensor technology – including strain gauges, unmanned vehicles (drones), increased processing power, and data analytic tools – make this new way of monitoring possible. Hand-held field devices, for example, may now enable real-time check-ins of fixed and moving infrastructure as a viable alternative to existing visual inspection.
Advanced Propulsion Research
This program evaluates previously funded low and no emission demonstration programs with the goal of furthering the commercialization of zero-emission vehicles. In addition, the program will begin a comprehensive program of certifying a range of components specifically for use on low and no emission transit buses.
FTA furthers safety and reliability through asset management, which combines innovation and technology to keep transit’s complex infrastructure in good working order. FTA continues its commitment to encourage sustainable alternative technology to reduce costs and emissions by conducting research on, developing, and deploying zero-emission transit vehicles, facilities and technologies; identifying innovative and sustainable use of transit vehicles and services through practices and technologies, and; developing partnerships with other federal agencies involved in energy and environmental research.
- The Low or No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program, which was authorized as a deployment program under MAP-21 and is now a capital program authorized in the 2015 FAST Act, provides $55 million a year in funding for transit agencies to acquire, construct or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses.
- In September 2016, FTA announced its Low and No-Emission Component Assessment (LoNo-CAP) program, which promotes funding to conduct testing, evaluation, and analysis of low or no emission components intended for use in transit buses by institutions of higher education.
Public Transit Innovative Workforce Development and Training
As transit ridership continues to grow, requiring new vehicles, new service, and more efficient, environmentally sensitive systems, FTA supports the next generation of public transit workers with national innovative workforce development programs and training through its National Transit Institute. The initiatives are intended to strengthen the workforce with the skills they need to build, maintain, and repair new technology.
FTA’s workforce development projects develop or expand partnerships with transit agencies, labor unions, nonprofits, and academic institutions, and in the future will support small transit-oriented businesses owned by women and minorities. In addition, several projects will serve as scalable models that can be applied to future projects throughout the United States.
Under MAP-21 and prior authorizations, FTA has invested nearly $20 million in workforce development programs. The FAST Act authorizes FTA to continue its innovative workforce development program, with a focus on the frontline transit workforce. The FAST Act also authorizes formula grant recipients to use a percentage of their funds to support workforce development programs.
National Transit Institute (NTI)
FTA funds the National Transit Institute, at Rutgers University, to develop, promote and deliver training and education programs for the public transit industry. Established in 1991, NTI promotes, develops and delivers programs and materials through cooperative partnerships with industry, government, institutions and associations. Courses in federal compliance are designed to help grantees understand processes and learn tools to remain compliant with federal regulations. For more information about NTI, contact us.