Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
American Public Transportation Association

 Update on Senate Authorization bill


On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate released its surface transportation authorization bill, which includes a transit title, a highway title, a rail title, and a finance title. On Wednesday evening, the Senate voted to invoke cloture, a procedural step to limit debate, and proceed to consideration of the comprehensive surface transportation authorization bill. There was another procedural vote held early on Friday which allows the Senate to proceed to the bill. Amendments to the bill are being filed, however, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used a procedural move to block any amendments from being considered on the floor, other than an amendment which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and an amendment attaching a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the bill. The Senate is expected to work on the bill through the weekend and into next week.

Transit Title Overview

Under the bill, authorization levels for the federal transit program would be increased by 8.78 percent in FY 2016 and by 25 percent over six years. This compares with 3.4 percent growth of the highway obligation limit in FY 2016, and 19 percent growth over the six-year bill.
APTA has made clear that we would like to see more growth in the overall transit program, and in the discretionary bus program as well. While the bill provides growth for all of the major transit programs, we have expressed concern that the program funding based on the modified numbers developed after the loss of the housing offset Thursday night are not consistent with industry priorities. In the first year, the bill increases total bus and bus facility funding in 2016 (including a discretionary component) by 42.78 percent. It also grows basic formula programs by between 1.25 percent and 2.5 percent, the state of good repair program by 12 percent, and the new starts program (including an Expedited Project Delivery program) by almost 21 percent. Increases in the out years for transit programs are well below APTA’s recommendations. We will continue to push for maximum funding.
The public transportation title, as drafted by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), was not considered by the full Banking Committee and did not have the full support of Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as it went to the Senate floor.

Finance Title Overview

On the revenue side of the bill, APTA expressed concern about the reliability of funding to support the multi-year bill. The measure provides offsets for the general fund revenues that are deposited into both the Mass Transit Account (MTA) and Highway Account (HA) of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), but those offsets were reportedly barely enough to fully fund three years of the bill’s authorization levels, and those offsets could be reduced further on the Senate Floor, as they already have.
Based on the split in the finance title introduced Tuesday between new revenues deposited into the respective accounts, some Senators expressed concern that the MTA could run short of funding for authorized programs earlier than the HA would run short of funding for authorized programs. It was reported that the U.S. DOT estimated that the MTA would end the third year of the bill with a negative balance of $180 million, based on future outlays of program funds.
APTA voiced concerns in a letter to negotiators on the bill that the funding for the MTA should guarantee complete funding for public transportation over the same period as the Highway program. During last minute negotiations ahead of the vote on cloture, the bill was modified to add funding to the State of Good Repair program and adjustments were made to the split in revenues deposited between highways and transit to ensure that the MTA would not run dry before the HA.
Separately, on Thursday night, the Senate leadership decided to remove another offset that would fund the bill, resulting in cuts to both highway and mass transit account programs. A $1.7 billion “pay-for” related to unused funds in a Treasury program intended to support state Housing Finance Agencies was cut from the bill Thursday night, and the authorizing committee staff was instructed to quickly find cuts to the program. Senate Banking Committee staff informed APTA that this means an $800 million cut to transit programs in order to achieve the required $300 million decrease in outlays.
The bill managers chose to reduce the growth of formula programs and the increases in the Bus and Bus Facilities Formula and the Competitive Grant Programs. The State of Good Repair account was not cut because of the previous agreement reached on Wednesday evening among key Senators.

Rail Title Overview

The Commerce title includes a substantial rail safety title including mandates for speed limit and grade crossing action plans and installation of speed warning signage and alerters. It encourages the voluntary use of confidential close call reporting system programs, requires all passenger railroads to install inwardand outwardfacing cameras in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments and authorizes the Secretary to require the installation of audio recording devices. The bill also extends the deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation to December 31, 2018. Railroads would have to install all equipment and secure spectrum by this date, with testing and certification to follow. The bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to coordinate with the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess the spectrum needs and availability of spectrum for implementing PTC and to report to
Congress on their findings. Further, the legislation also increases the liability cap from its 1997 level from $200 to $295 million, adjusted every ten years for inflation, but, it does not establish a mandatory minimum for insurance coverage.
The bill authorizes $6.6 billion in Amtrak funding for FY2016 to 2019 and $2.28 billion for grants to rail agencies. The bill would modify the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to prioritize applications that support the implementation of PTC. The Commerce title does not include previous language that would have repealed the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, replacing it with a grant program to fund freight infrastructure projects at a level of $500 million. Instead, it would leave the TIGER program unauthorized, subject to annual appropriations as it currently operates.
Below is a more detailed summary of the Finance provisions and the Public Transportation title to the bill. link for the transit program funding levels is here.

The Federal Public Transportation Act of 2015

Finance Title

The revised Finance Title of the bill, assuming adoption of a Leadership manager’s amendment, combines a miscellaneous collection of spending cuts and revenue offsets equal to the General Fund transfers to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The collection of offsets provides for a $47.1 billion General Fund transfer to the HTF, with $11.3 billion (24 percent) to the Mass Transit Account (MTA), and $35.8 billion (76 percent) to the Highway Account (HA). The offsets in the Finance Title are only adequate to fund the new authorizations of the Highway and Transit programs through the first three years of the bill. The authorizations beyond FY 2018 will require additional revenues being directed to the HTF.

Total Investment

The total funding for the transit program authorized in the bill grows from $10.695 billion in FY 2015 to $13.36 billion in FY 2021, for a total growth rate of 25 percent over the six years authorized. Of that amount, programs funded from the MTA grow from a current level of $8.595 billion in FY 2015, to $10.609 billion in FY 2021. General Fund programs (subject to annual appropriations) grow from $2.095 billion in FY 2015 to $2.751 billion in FY 2021 for a total growth rate of 31.3 percent.

FY 2015
FY 2016
FY 2017
FY 2018
FY 2019
FY 2020
FY 2021​​​​​
Total Transit  10,695.00  11,633.55  11,882.19  12,244.09  12,720.26  13,036.24  13,360.99​​​​​​​
Growth over FY​ 2015 ​-- ​8.78%  ​1​1.10%  ​14.48%  ​18.94%  ​21.89%  ​24.93%​​​​​
Total Highway  40,256.00  41,625.50 ​​ 42,896.30 44,331.10 45,759.40  46,882.70  48,032.90​​
Growth over FY 2015 ​-- ​3.40%  ​6.56%  ​10.12%  ​13.67% ​​​ ​16.46% ​19.32%

Bus and Bus Facilities

Over the six-year authorization, the bill increases by $387 million authorizations to the Bus and Bus Facilities Program, bringing the total program level up to $815 million by Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. The funding levels for Bus/Bus Facilities program include a bus discretionary (competitive) grant program totaling $180 million in the first year, and increasing to $190 million in FY 2019 through FY 2021 to address the bus capital investment needs of transit systems. This includes the no or low emission vehicle grant program (previously part of Section 5312) in the Bus and Bus Facilities competitive grant program and provides a $55 million setaside per year for these grants. The bus and bus facilities competitive grant program also includes a 10 percent rural setaside. The Sec. 5339 bus formula program establishes a new minimum state allocation of $2 million.
Bus and Bus Facilities (Sec. 5339)
​MAP-21 FY 2015 ​FY 2016 ​FY 2017 ​FY 2018 ​FY 2019 ​FY 2020 ​FY 2021​​​​​​
Bus Formula  ​428 ​430.79 ​440.30  ​495.32  ​585.85  ​605.42 ​625.54​​​​​​​
​Competitive  ​-- ​180.00 125.00 
​​130.00  ​135.00  ​135.00 ​135.00​​​​​​​
​No-Lo Emission Bus grants  ​-- ​-- ​55.00  ​55.00  ​55.00  ​55.00​​​​​ ​55.00 
​TOTAL Bus and Bus Facilities Grants  428  ​610.79​​ ​620.30 680.32  ​775.85  ​795.42 815.54​​​
​Percentage increase over prior year  ​-- 42.78%  1.56%  9.68%  14.04%  2.52% 2.53%​​​​​​
​Total Percentage increase over FY 2015 ​ 42.78% 45.00% 59.03% 81.36%  85.93%  90.64%​​​​

Fixed-Guideway State of Good Repair Program

The bill Includes a 12.12 percent increase, or $262 million, in FY 2016 State of Good Repair (fixed-guideway) grants. The total program grows an additional $492 million over the remainder of the authorization period.
State of Good Repair Grant Program (Sec. 5337)
​MAP21 FY 2015 ​FY 2016 ​FY 2017 ​FY 2018 ​FY 2019 ​FY 2020 ​FY 2021​​​​​​
​Fixed Guideway State of Good Repair Grants ​2165.9 ​2,428.34 ​2,479.74 ​2,533.88 ​2,592.51 ​2,655.39 ​2,720.01​​​​​​​
​Percentage Increase over prior year  ​-- ​12.12% ​2.12% ​2.18% ​2.31% ​2.43% ​2.43%​​​​​​
​Total Percentage increase over FY 2015 ​-- ​12.12% ​14.49%​ ​16.99% ​19.70% ​22.60% ​25.58%

Urban and Rural Formula Grants

Urbanized Formula Grants
The bill increases Section 5307 Urbanized Area Formula grants by $862 million over 6 years. The bill includes a grant requirement that the recipient maintain their equipment and facilities in a state of good repair. It also adds general public demand response service to the eligibility requirements of the 100 bus rule. The bill also gives the Secretary the discretion to grant temporary and targeted operating assistance to large urbanized areas that have a three-month unemployment rate greater than seven percent. Further, it allows section 5307 funds to be used to finance the operating cost of equipment and facilities for two consecutive fiscal years.
Urbanized area formula grants (Sec. 5307)
​MAP-21 FY 2015 ​FY 2016 ​FY 2017 ​FY 2018 ​FY 2019 ​FY 2020 ​FY 2021​​​​​​​
​Urbanized Area Formula Grants 4,458.65 4,538.91 4,639.10 4,794.64 4,975.88 5,101.40 ​5,230.40​​​​​​​
​Percentage Increase over prior year  ​-- 1.80% 2.21% ​3.35% 3.78% 2.52%​​​​ 2.53%
​Total Percentage increase over FY 2015  ​-- 1.80% 4.05% 7.54% 11.60% 14.42% 17.31%​​​​​​​
Rural Area Formula Program
The measure increases funding for rural areas by $105 million over the six-year authorization, including additional funding for Public Transportation on Indian Reservations. Funding for public transportation on Indian reservations increases by $5 million to $35 million annually. It also continues to include $5 million annually for a competitive grant program.
Rura​l ar​ea formula grants (Sec. 5311)
​MAP21 FY 2015 ​FY 2016 ​FY 2017 ​FY 2018 ​FY 2019 ​FY 2020 ​FY 2021​​​​​​​
​Rural Area Formula Grants ​545.64 ​552.56 ​565.97 ​580.10 ​609.74 ​626.51 ​643.74​​​​​​​​
​Percentage Increase over prior year  ​-- ​1.27% 2.43% 2.50% 5.11%​​​​ 2.75% ​2.75%​​
​​​​​Total Percentage increase over FY 2015 ​-- 1.27%  3.73%  6.31%​ 11.75%  14.82%  17.98%​​
​Rural Transportation Assistance Program  ​12.16  ​12.40  ​12.67  ​12.96  ​13.57  ​13.91  ​14.26​​​​​​​
Public Transp. on Indian Reservations ​30.00  ​35.00  ​35.00  ​35.00  ​35.00  ​35.00  ​35.00​​​​​​
​Appalachian Development Public Transp.  ​20.00  ​20.00  ​20.00  ​20.00  ​20.00  ​20.00  ​20.00​​​​​​​
Sec. 5310 Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities
The bill grows section 5310 by 2 percent, or $5.17 million in FY2016, and authorizes it to grow by 17.31 percent, or over $44 million by FY 2021. Included in the bill is a provision for the coordination of public transportation services with other federally assisted local transportation services, ultimately aimed to develop a cost-sharing policy. The bill also creates a pilot program that would provide grants to finance innovative projects for the transportation disadvantaged to improve the coordination of transportation services and non-emergency medical transportation services.
Capital Investment Grants
The bill grows Capital Investment Grants by 20.7 percent, or $395 million in FY2016, and authorizes it to grow by 35.82 percent by FY2021. The Capital Investment Grant program streamlines projects by employing innovative project delivery and financing methods for projects seeking minimal Federal funding. Additional flexibility is also given to the corridorbased bus rapid transit definition to include weekend days. Further, the bill increases the Small Start project threshold to allow applicants to request up to $100 million in Federal funds for a project with a total estimated net capital cost of up to $300 million. It also allows Small Start projects to be included in a program of interrelated projects and clarifies the evaluation and advancement criteria of these projects. In addition, joint public transportation and intercity passenger rail projects gain eligibility for funding from Fixed-Guideway Capital Investment (Section 5309) funds. The bill also establishes a pilot program which streamlines regulatory steps for new fixed-guideway projects, core capacity projects, and small start projects seeking a Federal funding level of 25 percent or less. This is aimed to expedite projects that have a limited Federal interest, while maintaining the Secretary’s discretion, keeps current Federal requirements, and maintains local financial commitment. Further, it expands eligibility for state of good repair portions to qualify as core capacity projects, so long as the project achieves a significant state of good repair.
Research, Standards and Workforce Development
In the Senate bill, TCRP (Section 5312) is moved from the General Fund to the MTA and funded at an annual level of $5 from FY2016 to FY2021. Technical Assistance and Standards (Section 5314), is also moved from the General Fund to the MTA and funded at an annual level of $4 million from FY2016 to FY2021. Also established in the bill is a program which aims to assess the impact of low or no emission vehicle components in both real-world and laboratory settings, funded at an annual level of $5 million through the MTA. The bill also expands eligibility for the Innovative Public Transportation Workforce Development
Program, giving the Secretary priority consideration to recipients who focus on underserved populations.
Transit Safety Program
The Public Transportation Safety program (Section 5329) remains funded through the General Fund, with a growth level of $1 million, bringing it up to $6 million annually from FY2016 to FY2021. It includes minimum safety standards that take into account recommendations from NTSB, best practices, and minimum safety standards developed by the public transportation industry. The bill also includes a FOIA exemption for records related to a public transportation agency safety plans.
Procurement and Buy America
The Senate bill increases the Buy America content requirement for transit rolling stock from the current level of 60 percent to 70 percent by FY2020. It also allows the Secretary to include the cost of domestic iron or steel used in rolling stock frames in the calculation of domestic content if the manufacturing processes occurred in the United States and the amount of iron or steel is significant. APTA transit vehicle manufacturers and major component suppliers have expressed concerns about both the domestic content changes and the provisions on iron and steel.
The bill also requires the Secretary, upon denial of a Buy America waiver, to issue a written certification that the item is produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount, the item is of satisfactory quality, and include a list of known manufacturers in the United States from which the item can be obtained. This section requires the Secretary to disclose any waiver denial and subsequent written certification on the website of the Department of Transportation.
Among the other procurement changes, the Senate bill incentivizes innovative procurement methods for the purchase of public transportation vehicles by enabling state purchasing schedules, nonprofit cooperative procurement programs, and new leasing options. It also establishes three pilot programs for GSA-type procurement schedule for the purchase of public transportation vehicles, provided that they are nonprofit entities and are geographically diverse. In addition, the Senate bill removes current regulatory impediments to the leasing of public transportation vehicles, allowing for innovative leasing opportunities. The bill allows the removable power sources for use in zero emissions vehicles to be leased, driving down the procurement cost for these vehicles. It also includes a provision that allows multiple states and providers to purchase capital assets through intrastate cooperative procurements or state purchasing schedules to benefit small transit providers.
The Senate bill encourages Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to consider intermodal facilities that support intercity buses and bus facilities. In addition, it provides that the selection of MPO officials shall be determined within the bylaws that establish or enable the MPO.
Copyright © 2018 American Public Transportation Association
1300 I Street NW
Suite 1200 East
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone (202) 496-4800 | Fax (202) 496-4324
Logo Usage | Privacy Policy | Staff Intranet