Physical bus testing operations that had been suspended on March 23, 2020, to protect the staff and community from the spread of the novel coronavirus resumed on July 13, 2020. Additional details are available at https://www.altoonabustest.psu.edu/covid19-message.aspx.
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 New 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 braking performance)
- 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.
Through March 31, 2020, 493 new bus models have been tested, resulting in over 9,855 documented failures, 46 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.