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Appendix 5: Federal Transit Administration (FTA)

FTA Technology Transfer

As a key agency in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) undertakes and funds nationally-significant research, development, demonstration, deployment, and evaluation projects to improve public transportation services throughout the United States.  See Figure 1 for illustration.  These activities are conducted in partnership with private industry, academia, public transportation systems, state and local governments, and non-profit and for-profit entities, among others.

A significant outcome of all FTA-funded research and demonstration projects is sharing the knowledge to ensure that research and scientific discoveries are distributed throughout the marketplace to benefit the economy and the nation.  The dissemination of this knowledge—technology transfer—is central to FTA’s activities, with emphasis on getting the latest ideas and technologies into the hands of the transit industry as quickly as possible.

Figure 1 Illustration of technology transfer activities conducted at FTA.

Figure 1 Illustration of technology transfer activities conducted at FTA.

Technology transfer plans and activities of selected FTA research and demonstration programs are presented below.  These plans emphasize how the dissemination of results is critical to their success. 

Low or No Emissions Vehicle Deployment Program (LONO)

U.S. DOT’s new authorizing legislation, MAP-21, establishes a new Low or No Emissions Vehicle Deployment program that provides funding for acquiring low or no emissions transit vehicles and the infrastructure to support those vehicles.  The program encourages projects that build on successful research, innovation, and development efforts, thus providing a pathway for promising advanced vehicle technologies from FTA research efforts to enter the market and get the volumes required for cost reductions.

Although primarily a capital program, the LONO program provides opportunities for technology transfer activities.  As part of the new program, FTA will conduct comprehensive evaluations that can be used to better understand the pathways and obstacles to deploying zero and low emissions vehicle technologies.  This information will be documented and used to inform the transit industry of the available technologies and their potential benefits and can also be used to structure future research efforts to maximize their deployment potential.

Intelligent Transportation Systems for Transit

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are techniques and methods for relieving congestion, improving road and transit safety, and increasing economic productivity. During the last few decades, there have been rapid advances in information and communications technology. Many transit agencies have employed a number of these different technologies to supplement or enhance the transportation services they offer to the public. 

FTA’s transit ITS research includes real-world operational testing of prototypes and technologies nearing commercialization.  Working with transit agencies and manufacturers, FTA has conducted evaluations of ITS demonstration projects to assess the impacts and determine the costs and benefits of new technologies.  FTA uses the engineering and applied research necessary to encourage the transit industry to adapt and integrate these new technologies into transit applications. Research is also conducted to identify risk factors and establish solutions. 

FTA, under its efforts to promote ITS, identifies the state-of-the-practice from the technological, institutional, economic, industrial, and deployment perspective and, in close coordination with the transit industry, encourages standards and best practices to provide a consistent environment for eliminating incompatibility, streamlining procurement, ensuring safety, and reducing costs.  Through FTA funding, transit ITS innovations are observed and evaluated by FTA researchers in large-scale field operational tests to identify best practices and lessons learned, which enables the transfer of knowledge to implementing agencies and forms the basis for new training.  A vital outcome is the validation of technologies through testing and the delivery of proposed specifications that allow vendors to produce consistent, high-quality products.

Technology transfer activities in transit ITS include technical assistance, peer-to-peer exchanges, professional development and training, information sharing, and industry dialogue, conducted to best relate lessons learned to achieve desired outcome goals.  Standards development organizations (SDOs), which are generally familiar with similar ITS technologies in multiple industries, help in the process of adapting new technologies to take advantage of existing manufacturing capabilities and vendors.  Industry groups also take a large role in information sharing and supporting further deployments.

Table 1 CURRENT ITS RESEARCH ACTIVITIES CONSIDERED FOR TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

 

Milestone

Evaluation Methods

Timeline/Results

1

Test and Evaluate Vehicle Assist and Automation (VAA) technology for system operations and improvements

Establish baseline and measure trends over time using approved metrics.

Establish baseline in 2012 using current operations data and measure progress during field test.  Develop Commercialization Plan in 2013.

2

Test and Evaluate Integrated Corridor Management (ICM)

Establish baseline and measure trends over time using approved metrics.

Using the modeling results as a baseline, monitor field testing data in 2013 for use in the evaluation.  Results will establish new Criteria for Corridor Management.

3

Test and Evaluate Connected Vehicle technologies for transit

Direct transit field test in coordination with RITA’s Joint Program Office for data collection and evaluation

Field test through 2013 in preparation of possible Rulemaking by NHTSA.

Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER)

FTA’s TIGGER Program involves working directly with public transportation agencies to implement new strategies for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and/or energy use within transit operations.  These strategies can be implemented through operational or technological enhancements or innovations.  To align the TIGGER Program with other strategic initiatives, FTA encourages project implementation through Regional Office oversight that will enhance operational efficiencies, demonstrate innovative vehicle propulsion strategies, and create an environment prioritizing public transportation through other technology approaches to achieve efficiency and sustainability goals. 

The TIGGER Program was initiated within the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and continued with SAFETEA-LU funding in 2010 and 2011, Over the next several years, FTA will collect information and data on each TIGGER project to assess the success of the program and to validate GHG and energy savings claims made in project proposals. To aid in this task, FTA has entered into an intra-agency agreement with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to conduct independent evaluations of the program.

Proposed technology transfer activities include developing research briefs, case study analyses, and a report to Congress to increase awareness and use of innovative technologies and operational strategies within the transit industry for reducing energy use and GHG emissions. Proposed activities also include cooperation with non-federal partners within the program through trade meetings and webinars and developing effective outreach materials and methods.

National Fuel Cell Bus Program (NFCBP)

The National Fuel Cell Bus Program is a cooperative research development and demonstration effort established under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation to advance the commercialization of fuel cell buses.  Fuel cells provide a zero-emissions alternative to diesel-powered buses without the issues associated with greenhouse gas and particulate emissions, high maintenance costs, and fuel price fluctuations of diesel buses.  Fuel cell bus research can also directly benefit other vehicles, such as hybrid and battery-powered buses.  The program is conducted in close partnership with industry, including manufacturers, suppliers, and transit agencies—the end users of the technology.  Funded under 50-50 cost share agreements through non-profit regional research consortia, the program encourages successful public-private partnering by pulling together industry teams to conduct projects that target program goals and directly address barriers to commercialization of fuel cell buses.

Low and zero emissions technologies for transportation is an emerging market, with significant potential for U.S. leadership.  Funding under the NFCBP provides resources to U.S. manufacturers and suppliers to aid them in developing technology to compete in the emerging market segment of fuel cell propulsion and supports a variety of technologies such as hybrid electric drive systems, hydrogen fuel storage and dispensing systems, and lightweight vehicle designs. The program also funds industry evaluations and market studies to better understand the pathway and barriers to commercialization of fuel cells for transit buses.  Projects funded through the program will continue over the next several years.

All NFCBP development and demonstration projects are evaluated independently, and the results are shared broadly with the transit industry through publications and outreach efforts, providing valuable information to transit agencies that are considering the technology for their fleets.  These results also provide data to manufacturers to help make their products more durable, reliable, and cost-competitive, a necessity for technology commercialization and effective deployment.

Technology transfer activities include engaging industry to help define technical targets for commercialization and developing and maintaining government-industry partnerships.  Important outreach  efforts are conducted that include  the publishing of reports, maintaining a dedicated website to share information across projects, and the operation of  national and international fuel cell bus working groups to share information on the technology progress and commercialization strategies.  A yearly status report on the state of fuel cell bus technology is also produced. 

New Model Bus Testing Program (“Altoona Testing”)

FTA’s New Model Bus Testing Program (often referred to as “Altoona Testing” due to the location of the primary test facility) tests new transit bus models or existing bus models being produced with major changes for safety, structural integrity and durability, reliability, performance, braking, maintainability, fuel economy, noise, and emissions.  Test results for bus models are compiled in reports, and FTA grantees must certify that they have received a copy of the test report prior to final acceptance of the first vehicle. The program provides a critical link between the transit bus manufacturing industry and transit researchers, functioning as a conduit for knowledge and technology transfer to the private sector. 

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. The Bus Testing Program also serves to avoid inconveniencing passengers, enhances safety, and also protects the Federal taxpayers investment. Several manufacturers of numerous bus models have been able to enhance deficiencies in their products before committing to large-scale production and being exposed to large-scale liability.  New legislation under MAP-21 introduces a pass-fail standard and accompanying test of new bus models.

Technology transfer activities include disseminating reports resulting from the New Model Bus Testing Program, which are available online through the Bus Testing Database.  Online information can then be easily searched and filtered to facilitate comparisons between different bus models. 

FTA Outreach

FTA conducts an information dissemination program in which reports and publications that present the results of its research are produced and published on FTA’s public website at http://www.fta.dot.gov/research. The website creates awareness and understanding of the value of FTA’s transit research, communicates the benefits of FTA research in ways that resonate with key stakeholders, affirms FTA’s leadership role in transit research, and demonstrates the return on investment of FTA research programs.  A transit research and industry news update, the quarterly FTA Research Digest, also is produced, which includes summaries of new publications, information on federal research in progress, and research news and resources.  Subscribers to FTA’s email updates receive notifications as soon as the Digest and new reports are published online.

Through these information dissemination efforts, FTA provides key audiences with easy access to transit research information results and findings to those who can benefit. These efforts also improve implementer ability to transform FTA research into system improvements, build awareness to support effective decision making around the deployment of new technology, and ensure that research peers have the most current information on trends, previous findings, and in-progress results. 

Even excellent research is of limited value if the results are not made available to as many parties as possible that might benefit from the findings. FTA’s extensive technology transfer activities are a key indicator of its value to taxpayers and industry as it seeks to conduct nationally-significant research, development, demonstrations, deployment, and evaluation projects to improve public transportation services throughout the United States.