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Promoting Innovation at the Federal Transit Administration

Posted by FTA Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams

For decades, transit agencies have provided safe and efficient service on subways, light rail systems, buses and other modes. Transit agencies today are working to improve their performance and meet riders’ evolving needs with technology-based innovations.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) continues to support Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s priority regarding innovation across the transit industry through its Research, Innovation and Deployment Office. Assisting the transit industry in adopting tried – and proven – technologies sets the stage for safer, more efficient public transportation across the nation.

FTA, along with the other modes at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), is working to support research into autonomous vehicle technologies.  DOT recently announced the release of automated vehicle requests for public comment, including two FTA requests related to automated bus and transit vehicle automation. Comments received will help USDOT identify barriers to innovation, help shape future initiatives supporting bus automation demonstration projects and inform technical assistance on advancing automated vehicle technologies.

To promote the development and deployment of automated bus transit services, FTA is developing a draft five-year plan that relies on research, integrated demonstration and strategic partnerships to address areas that advance industry automation goals. The plan will outline a roadmap for the future of transit automation in the United States.

FTA plans to continue supporting transit mobility through its Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program. FTA’s MOD program helps transit agencies and communities integrate innovative tools and services like smart phone apps, bike- and car-sharing, and demand-responsive buses to make transportation systems more accessible, efficient and integrated. In the first year of the program, FTA awarded $8 million to 11 projects.

MOD projects support improved mobility in both urban and rural areas. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) received a grant to develop an online trip planner to help rural residents better access on-demand bus service. Vermont transit agencies previously offered various online tools, but VTrans was able to integrate those into a seamless real-time statewide network. Now, riders can better plan bus trips, which often involve long headways and route deviations.  The open-data system will allow VTrans to offer future services, such as links to shared-ride companies, taxis and online ticket purchasing.

In another example, riders of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter rail in San Francisco are all too familiar with the challenge of finding a parking spot at transit stations on weekdays. With an FTA MOD Sandbox grant, BART partnered with a software company to develop a carpooling app that matches transit commuters, allowing them access to carpool-only parking at transit stations.

Learn more about FTA’s research program in our latest video, Harnessing Innovation for Public Transportation.