The FTA Bus Testing Program at the Altoona Bus Testing Center Suspended by Pennsylvania State Officials Effective Noon on Monday, March 23, 2020
Following directives from Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University Senior Vice President for Research, Laura Weis, the Altoona Bus Testing Center suspended bus testing operations effective noon, Monday, March 23, 2020, to protect its employees and the public from the spread of the Coronavirus. The duration of the suspension is unknown. Staff that are able to telework will complete work on test reports that were in progress and other administrative tasks.
What does this mean for transit agencies and bus manufacturers?
- Delays in transit agencies’ ability to purchase new bus models: The suspension will delay the physical testing of any bus model that had not gone through all testing or had not started Bus Testing. This could affect some bus manufacturers’ ability to bring future bus models to market, at least those they had expected to be purchased with Federal Funds. Until the physical testing of a new bus or a modified bus is completed, the Bus Testing Report cannot be finalized and published, and grantees must have a copy of the appropriate Bus Testing Report before final acceptance of a bus model.
- Buses that completed testing but reports were not yet completed: For bus models that had completed the required physical testing prior to the suspension, program staff will work remotely to complete and publish those test reports.
- Potential impacts to transit agency bus procurements: Bus procurements for any of the 485 bus models for which Bus Testing Reports have been published to date are not affected by the suspension of physical bus testing activities. Preparation of Bus Testing Reports for bus models that had finished the physical portion of testing will continue with staff working remotely, so those procurements will probably not be substantially delayed. Procurements for bus models that have not finished physical testing or have not yet started Bus Testing will be delayed.
On August 1, 2016, FTA announced a final rule for bus testing for improving the process of ensuring the safety and reliability of new transit buses. The rule satisfies requirements in MAP-21 to establish minimum performance standards, a standardized scoring system, and a pass-fail threshold that will better inform local transit agencies as they evaluate and purchase buses.
FTA’s Model Bus Testing Program (often referred to as “Altoona Testing” due to the location of the main testing center) tests new transit bus models for:
- structural integrity and durability
- performance (including brakes)
- fuel economy and
Bus models that fail to meet one or more minimum performance standards will “fail” their test and thus be ineligible for purchase with FTA funds until the failures are resolved. FTA will use this authority to make sure defects are fixed before vehicles are allowed to go into service.
The rule also will generate data from the scoring system that makes it easier to compare similar bus models from different manufacturers. Test results for a particular bus model are compiled in a report; an FTA grantee must certify that it has received a copy of the test report prior to final acceptance of the first vehicle.
To date, more than 325 new bus models have been tested, resulting in over 7,870 documented failures, 38 of which could have resulted in serious injuries or significant property damage had they occurred in revenue service. Many would have adversely impacted service (e.g., resulting in road calls stranding passengers), and all would have increased maintenance costs by requiring corrective maintenance actions. By testing new bus models before they are purchased, grantees and manufacturers can often address problems before the fleet is built, potentially saving considerable money and time and avoiding inconveniencing passengers. Bus Testing Reports are available through the Bus Testing Database, where they can be searched and filtered to facilitate comparisons between different bus models.
The Bus Testing Program applies to recipients of FTA capital assistance who purchase new model transit buses or existing bus models being produced with a major change. The Bus Testing Program is generally not applicable to purchasers of school buses or over-the-road motorcoaches, unless those buses are being acquired with FTA funding for use in public transportation service.
49 USC Section 5318. The program is administered under FTA’s implementing regulation at 49 CFR Part 665, commonly referred to as the Bus Testing Regulation.
FTA dedicates the bus testing rule to the memory of our departed colleague, Gregory Rymarz, whose vision, energy and intelligence were instrumental in its creation.