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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Prototype Vehicle Policy

The contents of this page do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This page is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies. Recipients and subrecipients should refer to FTA’s statutes and regulations for applicable bus testing requirements.
A test bus during gasoline check-in at the Bus Testing Center

The FTA’s current prototype vehicle policy consists of the following principles (these principles supersede the June 13, 1994 “Dear Colleague” letter, which is no longer in effect):

  1. The Bus Testing requirements may be waived by FTA for prototype vehicles, which FTA defines as the first five (5) pre-production/new technology demonstration vehicles incorporating a major new design or major new components.
  2. If a manufacturer sells or leases more than a total of five prototype vehicles of a given type, regardless of whether it is to a single grantee or to multiple grantees of FTA financial assistance, FTA will consider any buses beyond the original five to be production-ready vehicles and thus subject to all Bus Testing Requirements.
  3. To be eligible for consideration as a prototype, a vehicle must utilize significant new technology or design features that have not previously been applied in the transit industry or in similar applications, AND which may be expected to require significant refinement, optimization, or operating experience before the manufacturer can reasonably commit the design feature or component to production.   
  4. A prototype waiver applies to the vehicle as an integrated unit. The addition or installation of a new or untested component onto an existing vehicle would not qualify that vehicle for a prototype vehicle exemption. Instead, the modified vehicle might be eligible for partial testing.
  5. Prototype waivers are uncommon and are not automatic. Prototype waivers must be reviewed by FTA on a case-by-case basis and may or may not be granted. Contact the FTA Bus Testing Program Manager for guidance.

The FTA emphasizes that a bus model cannot simultaneously meet the requirement in 49 CFR 665.11(a)(5) that the tested bus must “Be substantially fabricated and assembled using the techniques, tooling, and materials that will be used in production of subsequent buses of that model,” while meeting these requirements for a Prototype Waiver. Consequently, prototype vehicles are not eligible for testing, and a Prototype Waiver will not be granted to allow grantees to acquire a bus model that is simultaneously being tested. The FTA expects manufacturers that receive prototype waivers to perform in-service testing on the prototype unit(s) and incorporate lessons learned before building a unit to be submitted for FTA Bus Testing.