On Sept. 30, 2008, the Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement testing procedures for brakes and emissions required by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Equitable, Transportation Efficiency Act: a Legacy for Users (“SAFETEA-LU”). The eventual rules will be implemented by the “Bus Testing Center,” operated by the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute of The Pennsylvania State University in Altoona, Pa. The intent of the testing was to provide reliable performance information to transit authorities that could be used in their purchase or lease decisions. SAFETEA-LU also amended subsection 5318(a) to state: “The Secretary of Transportation shall maintain one facility for testing a new bus model . . . .”

The Bus Testing Center currently performs seven categories of tests that were required by the predecessor statute to SAFETEA-LU, and which were included in the original FTA report, “First Article Transit Bus Test Plan.” The seven current test categories are:

  • Maintainability 
  • Reliability 
  • Safety 
  • Performance 
  • Structural integrity 
  • Fuel economy 
  • Noise

FTA proposes to add brake performance and emissions to the seven test categories that the Bus Testing Center currently administers. Specifically, FTA seeks comments concerning the proposed testing procedures, estimated testing fees, and emissions testing. Comments are due by Dec. 1, 2008.

FTA proposes to establish a number of rules that would govern the transition from current testing standards to new brake performance and emissions testing standards. FTA proposes to establish a rule that the date on which a bus’ testing contract was signed will determine the applicability of the brake performance and emissions tests. In addition, FTA proposes “partial testing” procedures for buses that were approved under prior testing guidelines, but that have subsequently undergone major changes with regard to configuration or components.

In addition to its proposed transition rules, FTA seeks comments concerning other specific testing changes. FTA proposes to adopt different testing regulations for different vehicles, depending upon the service life of categories of vehicles, and FTA seeks comments regarding the structures of these categories. FTA seeks comments regarding several proposals for conducting tests for vehicles that cannot be tested at their fully loaded weight. FTA seeks comments regarding a proposal to conduct chassis-related testing, separate from testing of integrated vehicles. In addition, FTA proposes to change its evaluation from a “pass/fail” system to a “recommended/not recommended” system, and seeks comments regarding this change. These are just a few of the numerous changes FTA proposes to the current regulatory regime governing brake and emissions testing that all passenger buses must undergo.

FTA’s proposed rulemaking should be of great interest to all companies that manufacture or operate buses, in addition to all companies that manufacture brake or emissions systems for buses, or components thereof.